3D Printing Micro Aerial Vehicle Molds Polyurethane Foam from the Air

Researchers from Imperial College of London’s Department of Aeronautics managed to bring together drones and 3D printers in a device with a lot of potential.

While not exactly the best example in the world, the 3D Printing MAV stands as proof that the two technologies could be used in tandem. The implementation might be deficient at the moment, but scientists will definitely improve the 3D printing drone in the future. Primarily imagined as a solution for emergencies, the MAV can mold polyurethane foam from the air into non-complex structures.

Polyurethane foam could be used for removing nuclear waste, assuming that more such drones would work in tandem. The foam itself is very sticky, fact that would enable the drones to attach to the hazardous materials and fly away with them.

Dr. Mirko Kovac of the Imperial College of London’s Department of Aeronautics is the leader of the team that created the 3D printing drone. The concept behind the drone is quite simple. A quadcopter was equipped with two chemical cartridges that shoot the substances from which results the polyurethane foam.

On the other hand, Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield, stated in an interview with the BBC that he is anything but impressed by the MAV: “This could hardly be called 3D printing, although it uses some of the components.” Sharkey noticed that the 3D printing drone has some potential, assuming that it is built properly: “However, the potential game changer in this application is their notion of using it to repair bridges and other construction works from the air.”

The team draw their inspiration for the 3D printing MAV from a bird called swiftlet, and the similarities don’t lie in the design. The swiftlet flies through dark environments in the search for a place of its future nest, which it builds using its own saliva that hardens in time.

In the following video, you can see a quadcopter 3D printing polyurethane foam on a presumably dangerous box, and a hexacopter lifting the package. Due to the increased number of rotors, the latter is more capable of lifting heavy things. Since the device is remote controlled, there is no danger for humans, but should this be built at a larger scale, it might get difficult to control it unmanned.

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