Researchers Develop Robot-Powered Flight Assembled Architecture

International
Thursday, December 1, 2011
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A robot placing a brick. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

A robot placing a brick. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

Finally, one of our classic futurist expectations (something you might see in Futurama) is about to be fulfilled: architecture assembled by a swarm of flying robots. With robots apparently planning a takeover of the construction industry, how long until the iconic yet dangerous “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” (from the 1930s) is a thing of the past?

An example of the flying robot carrying a styrofoam brick. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

An example of the flying robot carrying a styrofoam brick. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

Beginning tomorrow through February 19, the FRAC (Fonds Regional d’Art Contemporain) Centre in Orléans, France presents its flying robots in action with the installation Flight Assembled Architecture to be built by semi-autonomous flying machines called quadcopters. Programmed by Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler and Italian robotics expert Raffaello d’Andrea, these flying agents will interact, lift, transport, and assemble small modules to erect a flowing structure in an artful ballet—in this case, a tower model standing 20ft tall and 11ft in diameter using 1,500 prefabricated polystyrene foam bricks. The idea of many 3d mobile agents swarming and collectively applying their individual speed, flexibility, and precision is reminiscent of the elegantly choreographed construction of a beehive.

A detail of what the future styrofoam structure. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

A detail of what the future styrofoam structure. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

The experiment, a marriage of architecture and robotics, easily opens up innovative possibilities of both thinking and materializing digital design and fabrication for a new generation of architects. In case you’re worried about the danger of a mid-air collision, the robots are equipped with motion capture sensors that will monitor their movements at a rate of 370 frames per second. If you’re still a skeptic and find their agility dubious, check out these videos demonstrating how coordinated and groovy these robots really are:

An aerial robotic ballet:

And a ping pong match between flying robots:

The stacked structure will stand 20 feet tall. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

The stacked structure will stand 20 feet tall. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

An "arena" to help guide the robots. (Courtesy Raffaello D'Andrea)

An "arena" to help guide the robots. (Courtesy Raffaello D'Andrea)

Researchers will build a 20-foot tall tower using flying robots. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

Researchers will build a 20-foot tall tower using flying robots. (Courtesy FRAC Centre)

A plan and section of the structure to be built. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

A plan and section of the structure to be built. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

A robot in front of a prototype tower. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

A robot in front of a prototype tower. (Courtesy Gramazio & Kohler and Raffaello D’Andrea with ETH Zurich)

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