Flying Robots: Coming to a Construction Site Near You?

Quadcopter

My first reaction when hearing about flying robots was: If and when they take over, do we really want them flying? Relax! These robots are designed to help build structures, perhaps eventually on a large-scale.

This joint venture of robotics and architecture resides as an art installation at FRAC Center Orleans in France. The brainchild of ETH Zurich roboticist Rafaello D’Andrea and architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, the exhibit is about 20 feet high and built out of foam bricks. Over the course of two days in December visitors were able to watch as the robots laid each brick in place.

Designed as quadcopters, the robots have four rotors that enable smooth flight and operation. They sail up into the air and stop, hover like bees and then place a brick down. The structures they build resemble hives and the robots themselves make a sort of buzzing noise.

Rafaello D’Andrea comments in a Reuters video: “It has to be such that the technology is just transparent to you. You just see these vehicles fly, and it should seem like magic.”

No doubt, it does. Flying in a vertical pattern, these robots almost levitate as they build. There’s no magic, however.

Their accomplishments are due to intelligent engineering and programming. Sensors on the ceiling guide the quadcopter up into the airspace, while a software program guides the brick placement behind the scenes. They are programmed to avoid collision, and to head back to base when they need recharging.

These powerful little robots could someday have a profound impact on traditional construction. Imagine instead of seeing giant cranes looming at construction sites, you see instead quadcopters buzzing about, plucking materials from the ground and placing them carefully where they belong…

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Image courtesy of FRAC Center France

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