A team of researchers from the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London have just unveiled their latest project, and it’s one of the most daring uses of 3D printing yet seen.
Essentially, these robots are airborne 3D printers, building nests and carrying containers to and from areas impossible to safely reach by human beings. Not only that, they operate completely autonomously.
The lab, which is one of the foremost authorities on robotics technology in the world, got the idea from swiftlets that build their nests with their own saliva. The process involves two different robots – a quadcopter and a hexacopter.
The quadcopter flies into a location that is challenging for people to reach. It then prints a sticky form on to an object before flying away. The hexacopter flies to the same object, guiding itself using GPS or sensor technology. It lands on the sticky chemical, which then hardens. The hexacopter flies off with the object attached.
The brainchild of lead researchers Mirko Kovac, Adam Braithwaite and Graham Hunt, the technology could have a number of usages in a number of different industries. For example, removing radioactive waste from a nuclear site could be done without any of the risks related to human interaction with such material.
Another potential usage would be repair jobs on bridges, roofs or other structures in precarious locations.
While the current hexacopter prototype can carry about 2.5 kg, the intended scaled up version should be able to carry up to 40 kg. It currently works on a regular battery, though, in future, an extra fuel cell may be added. This would allow the robot to recharge itself with solar cells, allowing for even less human interaction.
According to Thomas Creedy, an ecologist from London’s Natural History Museum, who is collaborating with the team, it could have a huge effect on the increasingly widespread and increasingly controversial deployment of drones in remote locations. He claims it could have a hand in:
Extending the scope of scientific survey robots in challenging environments such as rainforests through the adaptable construction of recharging platforms or monitoring stations.
Fancy taking a look at these potentially revolutionary robots up close? Then pop down to the Imperial Festival in London on either 9th or 10th May, where Kovacs will be demonstrating their capabilities.