Aerial additive manufacturing with multiple autonomous robots

Ketao Zhang, Pisak Chermprayong, Feng Xiao, Dimos Tzoumanikas, Barrie Dams, Sebastian Kay, Basaran Bahadir Kocer, Alec Burns, Lachlan Orr, Christopher Choi, Durgesh Dattatray Darekar, Wenbin Li, Steven Hirschmann, Valentina Soana, Shamsiah Awang Ngah, Sina Sareh, Ashutosh Choubey, Laura Margheri, Vijay M. Pawar, Richard J. BallChris Williams, Paul Shepherd, Stefan Leutenegger, Robert Stuart-Smith, Mirko Kovac*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Additive manufacturing methods1–4 using static and mobile robots are being developed for both on-site construction5–8 and off-site prefabrication9,10. Here we introduce a method of additive manufacturing, referred to as aerial additive manufacturing (Aerial-AM), that utilizes a team of aerial robots inspired by natural builders11 such as wasps who use collective building methods12,13. We present a scalable multi-robot three-dimensional (3D) printing and path-planning framework that enables robot tasks and population size to be adapted to variations in print geometry throughout a building mission. The multi-robot manufacturing framework allows for autonomous three-dimensional printing under human supervision, real-time assessment of printed geometry and robot behavioural adaptation. To validate autonomous Aerial-AM based on the framework, we develop BuilDrones for depositing materials during flight and ScanDrones for measuring the print quality, and integrate a generic real-time model-predictive-control scheme with the Aerial-AM robots. In addition, we integrate a dynamically self-aligning delta manipulator with the BuilDrone to further improve the manufacturing accuracy to five millimetres for printing geometry with precise trajectory requirements, and develop four cementitious–polymeric composite mixtures suitable for continuous material deposition. We demonstrate proof-of-concept prints including a cylinder 2.05 metres high consisting of 72 layers of a rapid-curing insulation foam material and a cylinder 0.18 metres high consisting of 28 layers of structural pseudoplastic cementitious material, a light-trail virtual print of a dome-like geometry, and multi-robot simulations. Aerial-AM allows manufacturing in-flight and offers future possibilities for building in unbounded, at-height or hard-to-access locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)709-717
Number of pages9
Issue number7928
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the support of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) awards under grant agreements EP/N018494/1, EP/K005030/1 and EP/S031464/1, the EPSRC Centre for Decarbonisation of the Built Environment (dCarb) under grant agreement EP/L016869/1, the Royal Society Wolfson Fellowship under grant number RSWFR1180003, EU H2020 AeroTwin project under grant number 810321 (M.K.), the Royal Thai Government Scholarship (P.C.), the University of Bath Research Scholarship (B.D.) and the Department of Aeronautics of Imperial College London. We thank T. Al-Hinai and R. Siddall for their contributions in the early conceptualization stage of the project, Z. Jiang, C. Liu and Y. F. Kaya for their assistance in experimental tests and multi-media files preparation, and A. Cully for pre-reviewing the early versions of the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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