SCIENCE

Cranes Are So 20th Century. Construction Drones Are My New Jam

Flying builder-bots could soon replace cranes (read: giant metal dinosaurs) on building sites

Sep 24, 2015 at 4:21 PM ET

Hard-working quadcopters and drones could soon be swarming around that building site around the corner from your home. A new video of quadcopter drones independently knotting a workable rope bridge liking a swarm of flying, cybernetic boy scouts shows how far miniature flying machines has come in the past few years.

The video is a product of research by the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control and Gramazio Kohler Research at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and shows drones that are able to autonomously build a structure. The drones can also able to work together to aggregate structures that couldn’t be built by an individual machine, Ammar Mirjan, a researcher on the project, told Vocativ via email.

Flying machines open up a world of potential for the construction industry. Not only do they take up less space and maneuver more easily, but they can cooperate with each other as well, Mirjan wrote in the email. “While traditional stationary machines, as for example a crane, tend to block the working space of other cranes and are therefore usually constrained to individual construction tasks, flying robots can interact with and maneuver around each other in three-dimensional space and can be used for cooperative tasks in a more flexible manner,” he wrote.

These types of robots are used on construction sites for monitoring and surveying tasks, according to Mirjan, but they are not yet used for building structures. A rat’s nest of legislative and safety issues have yet to be untangled before flying machines can do that type of work.

When asked about the most challenging part of their work, researcher Federico Augugliaro wrote in an email to Vocativ, it was getting the machines to fly in a reliable way. It’s taken them and many other researchers five years of hard work to hone in on the craft of the flying machine. The most recent challenge for them, he wrote, was in developing the perfect algorithm to make the drones build such a calculated bridge.