Flying robots build structure

ETH Zurich roboticist Raffaello D'Andrea is collaborating with architects on a new building construction technique using flying robots. Their demonstration installation, Flight Assemebled Architecture, has just opened at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France. Four autonomous quadcopter robots retrieve foam bricks and then a networked computer vision system directs their placement. The installation consists of more than 1,500 bricks and is a 1:100 model of what the architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler call a "vertical village."

 Img Flying-Robots-Building-Tower-1322840307586 The robots fly autonomously, but they get help from the environment: The ceiling of the room where the assembly is taking place was equipped with a motion-capture system. A computer uses the vision data to keep track of the quadcopters and tell them where to go…

When a robot's battery runs low, it automatically lands on a charger and a new quad rotor takes its place. The assembly is happening at a pace of 100 bricks per hour on average, D'Andrea says. Glue on the bottom of the bricks keeps them in place (the installation will become part of FRAC's permanent collection).

"Watch Flying Robots Build a 6-Meter Tower" (IEEE Spectrum)

Flying Machine Enabled Construction (ETH)

"Flying robots, the builders of tomorrow" (Reuters via YouTube, thanks Jay Dautcher!)


  1. “: The ceiling of the room where the assembly is taking place was equipped with a motion-capture system. ”
    So it can’t scale yet, then. Still fascinating (and French, yay).

  2. It can scale if they make the motion-capture system a couple of helicopters flying above the site watching everything, instead of ceiling mounted.

    If they made the blocks have internal , interlinking conduits, the finished structure could be pumped full of concrete from a single point at the bottom (by a robot, of course), and the styrofoam blocks would weather away to reveal a permanant skeletal structure.

    Or, I’d like to see them just lathe that structure as-is, and it would be fairly durable.

      1. – Gps
        – sensors to triangulate the distance between each of the other helicopters
        – sensors to check the distance between helicopters and fixed points on the ground

  3. Kind of along the lines of what soodonim said, it wouldn’t be hard to overcome the “indoor” aspect of it.

    It’d be pretty sweet to see this all packaged into a tractor trailer, add in a compressed earth block machine and a couple of the flying units/their associated hardware and you’d be able to construct a building while just providing the raw materials.

    I guess depending on how environmentally friendly you want to be, this isn’t really the best idea.  I mean the fuel usage for flying +40lb blocks would be much higher than having loaders and people laying them.  But in terms of efficiency and time this would rock pretty hard.

  4. How is this cooler than a robotic building crane? Let the copters help erect the crane, and then let the crane do the lifting. Steel cable and beam is a lot better than air rotors to bring a building up.

  5. I’ve still got my money on some sort of robotic anty crawly builder bots. I just can’t imagine hovering one million tons worth of  concrete and steel will ever be energy efficient.

  6. Does this solve a problem?  We already have great big cranes, and I suspect that they operate more efficiently than one of these quad-rotor situations would.  

    It’s pretty neat, though.

  7. All these comments about cranes being more efficient, I think they are forgetting the limitations of a crane. A crane only works then access is available above. You can’t deliver a component to the middle of a floor that has already been built on top of.  Also, srchitects have to design buildings according to how they can be built with cranes, to the point that they even have plans for the crane’s location itself, and how it will deliver components. A robotic helicopter also has the advantage of being able to work in multiple at the same location. You can’t really have two cranes delivering components at close locations. As well, the helicopters don’t need to be stored on the job site, eliminating the room it takes up and the hazards it brings.

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