A project is underway to develop new drones that go beyond surveillance and are capable of building structures with the use of 3D printing software.

The team of scientists and engineers are looking to develop aerial robots that are able to fly into either remote locations or disaster zones, and construct shelters and buildings using additive building manufacturing (ABM). Researchers from the University of Bath, Imperial College and University College London have come together for what will be a four-year colloborative project culminating in the creation of pioneering new drones for worldwide use.

Despite ABM fundamentally transforming the industry and giving way to an age of 3D-printed development, the systems are ill-suited to construction in remote areas. Existing tools have historically been too large and too difficult to service, ruling them out of development in remote areas. Looking to address that challenge, the research project aims to develop an innovative ABM system capable of manufacturing shelters and bridges remotely.

It will primarily comprise a swarm of drones that can conduct aerial surveys as well as assess and manufacture structures. With the use of autonomous robots, the team are hoping to significantly shrink ABM and, by doing more in the air, improve its mobility and appropriateness for complex builds. The drones would then act self-sufficiently, working together to assemble a build on site.

Of course, the use of drones in the construction industry is already pronounced and the technologies have been used successfully for surveillance during the design stages of development. Despite re-purposing drone technology for actual construction, engineers will continue to make use of the robots’ surveying capabilities; the swarm will use complex Building Information Management (BIM) systems to scan and model the building and surrounding area.

Imperial College London’s Dr Mirko Kovac from the Department of Aeronautics is leading the multimillion pound project. Billed as one the sector’s most exciting projects to date, it has already received in excess of £3.4m of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and various other industrial partners.