DediBot – a 3D printer manufacturer out of Hangzhou, China – has created quite a buzz in Shanghai this week with the launch of something it's calling the Fly Elephant. The prototype that took flight at the company's booth at the TCT Asia trade show is no ordinary multi-rotor drone, but features an extruder that can be used for rapid prototyping of large structures.
Under the six rotor cage of the Open-ended Additive Manufacturing (OAM) drone hangs a 3D printing nozzle that's fed plastic, concrete mix or other material from a tube connected to the top of the OAM Fly Elephant. The drone's printing path will be precisely plotted by software, for a promised printing accuracy of 0.1 mm.
The 3D printing drone flying around the company's booth at TCT Asia is showcasing its potential applications in the construction industry, with the free-flying design meaning that the size and shape of printed structures are not restricted by the dimensions of a static 3D printer's enclosure. Printed examples on display look similar to the kind of layer-by-layer 3D-printed builds in Dubai and Spain.
Construction projects could be undertaken by a cluster of 3D printing drones working together, possibly with drones each extruding different materials for a kind of multiple print head approach to structure builds. Of course, short battery life may well limit the potential usefulness of such technologies so DediBot is looking to wireless power solutions to give the drones potentially unlimited air time on the construction site.
All of which could make the out-there plan put forward by Vincent Callebaut to rebuild Mosul in Iraq seem not so far fetched after all.
The Fly Elephant is still very much at the concept stage, with many questions yet to be answered – including what impact on flight, movement and printing accuracy the material supply tube might have on the drone, would printing need to abandoned during high winds, and would the process be limited to producing rough and ready structure prototypes or might we see drones printing usable buildings? But the flying prototype on show in Shanghai, China, is an intriguing taste of things to come. Maybe.
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