Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, have developed cool drones that can weave cord into rope bridges, reports New Scientist’s Hal Hodson.
Each quadcopter drone is equipped with a spool of strong plastic cable that runs out behind it as it flies. One end of the cable can be secured by making several turns around a pole. The drones are positioned and directed autonomously from the ground by a central computer fitted with a camera that watches them as they fly. For example, to loop cables around each other, the computer directs two drones to fly through certain points at an exact time. In this way, the fleet can tie complicated knots and form large, regularly repeating patterns strung between fixed structures.
For now, these drones are only capable of building tensile structures like the one above. Ammar Mirjan, who collaborated with Augugliaro’s on the architectural side of the project, said that currently “something possible would be a structure like a bridge or a connection between existing buildings.”
Successful positioning — and, by extension, movement — is one of the key problems roboticists have to solve in order to build a worthwhile robot capable of complex tasks. Given that virtually unlimited workspace that drones have access to (the sky), that problem gets solved much more easily. And if this advantage can continue to be refined, it’s easy to imagine this evolving to the point that drones do our building for us.
Koushil Sreenath, roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told New Scientist that “you [could hypothetically] just program the structure you want, press play and when you come back your structure is done. Our current construction is limited, but with aerial robots those limitations go away.”
Hodson says there’s interest in drones-as-construction-crew at other institutions too:
At the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Neri Oxman and her team are using robots suspended on cables to build structures. And at the University of Pennsylvania, the General Robotics Automation Sensing and Perception Lab is using drones with robotic clamps to build towers of magnetic blocks.
Check out the full video demo from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology below.