Is it a flying drone? Is it a 3D printer? It’s both!
Flying 3D printers. Yes they're now a thing that could soon be commonplace thanks to a prototype built by Imperial College London's aeronautic department.
The drone is able to fly using its hexacopter body and print using a chemical mixture that hardens when deposited. The design was inspired by the swiftlet bird which uses saliva to build its nest.
Dr Mirko Kovac, who heads the team, says the system works using two separate chemicals which harden when mixed and sprayed to form a polyurethane foam. This means the flying 3D printer could be used to fix damage in difficult to reach areas like wind farms or bridges.
The current model needs to be connected with a computer to coordinate its GPS and 16 infrared cameras. But a scaled up final model may feature an onboard computer and high-speed cameras with 3D depth sensors so it can process information in real time.
Dr Kovacs says: "Using swarm intelligence, the robots will be able to perform very complex tasks of autonomous inspection and aerial construction effectively. For example, inspection drones will create a 3D scan to detect damage in hazardous environments and a second swarm of construction drones will selectively repair the structure with aerial 3D printing."
Perhaps in the future we could even see buildings being built from scratch by 3D printing drones.