In leap bridging today's construction with that of the world of tomorrow, Daniel Mellinger, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate, has created a stunning network of jaw-dropping aerial robots he calls "quadrotors" that can assemble structures with warp speed.
Mellinger worked on the project with team members Quentin Lindsey and Vijay Kumar.
Watching the video demonstration, it's easy to envision a bustling, futuristic city of tomorrow where brilliant urban planners and innovative cyber-architects download streams of intricate data into armies of flying construction bots that immediately take flight and then descend upon a chosen work site to feverishly assemble a towering skyscraper, a mammoth sports complex or sprawling shopping mall—all with the single-minded purpose and accuracy of devoted worker bees building a new hive.
Mellinger has also launched a web page with still images of his aerobatic quadrotors here.
Working with a robotic project for the GRASP Lab (General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception) at the university, Mellinger constructed a choreographed team of helicopter bots armed with special grapplers designed to pick up and move materials used for constructing buildings.
The "heli-bots" are amazingly dexterous, demonstrating their fantastic ability to swarm together like insects in programmed mid-air ballets, perch effortlessly on vertical walls, and zip through openings barely larger than themselves without any reduction in speed or purpose.
Want them to build something fast? All the heli-bots need is a blueprint, the materials and a place to construct it.
According to New Scientist, the algorithmic program instructs the heli-bots where the parts of the building are and which pieces fit with others.
In an interview with Raw Story, Mellinger said, "I think this work is a first step in autonomous aerial robotic assembly. I think it is reasonable to say that in the near future we can have large-scale aerial robots autonomously building structures that are useful to humans."
And Mellinger thinks right. In the not-too-distant future robots such as these can be teamed with human construction workers. Eventually, because of the heli-bot's speed, accuracy and elimination of human error, streamlined, hyper-speed construction forces may replace most human construction workers—at least those working on the most potentially dangerous, boringly repetitive or extremely delicate jobs.
Although the GRASP Lab heli-bot construction project is just the first step, it is the first breakthrough in a whole new application of robotic hive-minds. And the success of the project thrusts open the door to the wondrous future of robotic construction.
The most likely initial projects for this technology in the future? Probably very dangerous or rather inhospitable environments. As the technology proved itself in the field it would naturally expand to other work projects. Military applications also come to mind.
Wait until the Pentagon boys see this.