3D Printing With A Drone Swarm?

Even in technical disciplines such as engineering, there is much we can still learn from nature. After all, the endless experimentation and trials of life give rise to some of the most elegant solutions to problems. With that in mind, a large team of researchers took inspiration from the humble (if rather annoying) wasp, specifically its nest-building skills. The idea was to explore 3D printing of structures without the constraints of a framed machine, by mounting an extruder onto a drone.

As you might expect, one of the most obvious issues with this attempt is the tendency of the drone’s to drift around slightly. The solution the team came up with was to mount the effector onto a delta bot carrier hanging from the bottom of the drone, allowing it to compensate for its measured movement and cancel out the majority of the positional error.

The printing method relies upon the use of two kinds of drone. The first done operates as a scanner, measuring the print surface and any printing already completed. The second drone then approaches and lays down a single layer, before they swap places and repeat until the structure is complete.

Multiple drones can print simultaneously, by flying in formation. Prints were demonstrated using a custom cement-like material, as well as what appeared to be expanding foam, which was impressive feat to say the least.

The goal is to enable the printing of large, complex shaped structures, on any surface, using a swarm of drones, each depositing whatever material is required. It’s a bit like a swarm of wasps building a nest, into whatever little nook they come across, but on the wing.

We’ve been promised 3D printed buildings for some time now, and while we’re not sure this research is going to bring us any closer to living in an extruded house, we’re suckers for a good drone swarm here at Hackaday.

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An Integrated Electromagnetic Lifting Module For Robots

The usual way a robot moves an object is by grabbing it with a gripper or using suction, but [Mile] believes that electromagnets offer a lot of advantages that are worth exploring, and has designed the ELM (Electromagnetic Lifting Module) in order to make experimenting with electromagnetic effectors more accessible. The ELM is much more than just a breakout board for an electromagnet; [Mile] has put a lot of work into making a module that is easy to interface with and use. ELM integrates a proximity sensor, power management, and LED lighting as well as 3D models for vertical or horizontal mounting. Early tests show that 220 mW are required to lift a 1 kg load, but it may be possible to manage power more efficiently by dynamically adjusting drive voltage depending on the actual load.

[Mile]’s focus on creating an easy to use, integrated solution that can be implemented easily by others is wonderful to see, and makes the ELM a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.