When natural disasters strike, survivors need immediate access to temporary shelter. Since earthquakes, floods, and landslides often strike in remote areas, it can be a challenge to build strong and durable shelters quickly in affected locations.
Dr. Mirko Kovac of Imperial College London believes he has found the solution. He has created the world’s first drone 3D printer that can 3D print material onto waste and make it transportable. He recently received about $5 million to work on his invention to print emergency shelters.
Kovac is the leader of a team of researchers at Imperial College London’s Department of Aeronautics. He acts as the Principal Investigator and works with other researchers from Imperial’s Dyson Robotics Lab and other universities. They are receiving support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and are working with several construction, robotics, and 3D printing specialists. Their goal is to develop aerial construction robots equipped with 3D printers.
The researchers are working on developing 3D printing drones that can create high-quality structures on a large enough scale to serve as temporary housing. It is the only research project working on 3D printing using drones.
Kovac and his team believe using drones to 3D print buildings can improve safety. According to the International Labour Organization, at least 60,000 people die every year on construction sites.
The team is focusing their efforts on building in hard-to-reach areas. Natural disasters create physical obstacles for relief teams who need to build temporary structures. Drones could survey affected areas, and computer models could be created off-site. The drones could return later to 3D print buildings according to the plans. This would reduce the risk to emergency teams and help people get shelter faster.
The work is coordinated by a Building Information Management system that is fed by sensor data from drones. One challenge the researchers are facing is how to create adequate 3D printer mounts for drones that can deliver payloads accurately and coordinate the activities of a fleet of drones.
Drone 3D printers could also be used to construct tall buildings. Kovac predicts that drone 3D printers will be part of “smart cities” in the future. He expects that they will eliminate some jobs and create others because they will need to be manufactured, operated, and maintained.