March 22, 2023

The future of construction is here. 3D printing drones can now repair buildings from heights that are too dangerous for human workers. These drones were developed by Imperial College London and EMPA is a Swiss Federal laboratory.

The drones use Aerial Additive Manufacturing (Aerial-AM) to create an image of the surface, which is necessary to have the right materials needed so that the building is repaired properly. The drones use four bespoke cementitious mixtures that are used in place of cement. Regular cement is too heavy for the drones, so they use this lighter material better suited for it, which is made of mortar, concrete or grout and contains hydraulic cement.

Construction uses two types of drones specifically for 3D printing repairs. The BuilDrones deposit the materials during the flight and the ScanDrones measure the BuilDrone’s output and inform them of the next steps of repair according to the article written by Imperial College London.

These drones are coded to adapt to their surroundings, so if something were to go wrong in the environment or in the build, the drones should adapt to that situation.

Prof. Mirko Kovac, director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London, wrote about the drones his department is working on. He shared his vision for the drones and the future of
construction.

“Our fleet of drones could help reduce the costs and risks of construction in the future, compared to traditional manual methods,” Kovac said in his article on Imperial College London’s website.

Dr. Jong-Wha Bai, department chair of Civil Engineering and Construction Management, said the price of drone technology will go down.

“Drone technology is advancing rapidly in the construction industry,” Bai said. “As technology advances, and if it is manufactured on a larger scale, the costs of using drones in construction projects will be less.”

Costs may go down, but using these drones will take some adjustment.

“That could take a lot of stress off of workers, but I can see that could remove some job opportunities,” said Kariana Zelaya, freshman mechanical engineering major. “But at the same time, it can open up new job opportunities for people to make those drones.”

Benjamin Sanders, assistant professor of computing, software and data sciences, said he thinks there could be drawbacks to the kinds of mixtures used by the drones. One concern about this technology is how safe the mixtures of these concrete-like substances are.

“In traditional plastic-based 3D printing, very often fumes with the PLA style plastic are very poisonous,” Sanders said.

The subject of toxicity of the mixtures is not discussed in the article written by Imperial College London. According to Forbes, the fumes released during 3D printing could be hazardous in an uncontrolled environment. Sanders recommends using proper ventilation and using the outdoors for long-term projects because the mixtures could be toxic.

Since the drones are told what to do through programming, there is no concern right now that the drones will completely replace humans. They will continue to be monitored. With these drones, researchers hope to lower the price of construction projects and make the work environment safer for human construction workers in the future.

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