Robotic mini-quadrotors can now build towers (w/ Video)

Jan 20, 2011 by Lin Edwards report

(PhysOrg.com) -- Robotics researchers in the US that developed mini-helicopters or quadrotors have now demonstrated them working as a team to build quite complex structures such as towers or walls.

The researchers, led by PhD candidate Daniel Mellinger of the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) laboratory, have developed miniature robotic quadrotors that can grasp and lift almost any object and fly it to where it is needed. Now the team has developed a system of building structures in which the human only needs to select a design and an algorithm then controls the quadrotors to build the structure, working cooperatively as a team.

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The autonomous quadrotors each have a gripper mounted on their underside that can lift either horizontal or vertical components. Once in place in the structure, the components snap together with the aid of magnets, and the quadrotors can jiggle the beams to ensure they are correctly in position. The quadrotors work as a team via a wireless network, and the algorithm determines the order in which they lift and place the structure’s components.

Mellinger said the algorithm they have developed can be used to build almost any tower-like structure and the only constraints are the availability of parts and the limited battery life of the quadrotors.

A PhysOrg article last year showed the mini-robots performing aerobatics and feats such as flying through windows at different angles.

Now that the quadrotors are capable of building structures, this may be a first step towards full-scale autonomous flying robots or large numbers of smaller robots being used eventually for construction of real buildings. This might be especially useful in locations where construction is hazardous for humans, such as in war zones, oil rigs, or on extremely tall skyscrapers.

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User comments : 4

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gwrede
4 / 5 (4) Jan 20, 2011
Please, Santa, do watch the video. Don't you agree I should have one? Pretty please!
ODesign
not rated yet Jan 22, 2011
that is pretty impressive.
NoelPeak
5 / 5 (1) Jan 23, 2011
It won't be long until their big brothers armed with hellfire missiles will algorithmically form up for duty over the Khyber Pass.
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2011
While this demonstration is very impressive in terms of the demonstration of a robot to build a modular structure in 3d, there are issues.

Flying cranes are pretty inefficient unless they are lighter than air, i.e. bouyant. If you used bouyancy to offset most of the engine's mass then the batteries would last much, much longer. You could also use small scale EHD thrusters for manuevering, saving on much energy, as turning the props uses much more energy than allowing bouyancy for lift, and EHD for thrust and maneuvering would cost.

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However, this is beginning to demonstrate the types of automated assembly that I have always envisioned. They are on like step 1 or something, and needs to get to like step 10 or 20 before it's practical for the projects I would have in mind.

Some day, robots will build Solar farms or whatever we want, and then they will carry them into position much like these robots just did with the structural components seen here.