Drones have been a subject of extensive discussions lately. The big hype started when Amazon decided to spread the rumor that they will be using unmanned flying gadgets to deliver goods super fast. Then the topic somehow grew out of proportion, even Facebook and Google started fighting over a drone-making company.
The whole concept meets quite an opposition, as many address the issues of safety and security. However, we have to admit that such devices can be of enormous use especially at places that are impossible, or dangerous, to access by humans. A team of UK scientists, took a step further, and developed the first ever flying 3D printer, that can once and for all do the job no one wants to, or by any mean should, do- clean up nuclear waste from damaged reactors.
The invention is developed by a team from the Aerial Robotics Laboratory of the Imperial College London, let by Dr Mirko Kovac. The idea was inspired by the way swiftlets, little birds found in Southern Asia and Australia, pair up and build their nests out of saliva as they fly. Similarly, the 3D flying printers go together in a set of two, one delivers objects and seals small areas, while the other removes objects. The drones are programmed to specific locations using pre-defined GPS coordinates. Currently, the prototypes run on batteries, but soon the team promises to fit solar cells on them and make them self sufficient.
The flying 3D printers have been tested only to make polyurethane foam and carry small objects with weight no bigger than 5.5 pounds. But the uses of such devices are many, there is no doubt about it. It will take a bit of time until the team perfects their invention, but the scientists aim to develop it to an extent to which the drones can be used to remove contaminants and hazardous waste from places where it is too dangerous for people to go, for example failed nuclear reactors.
Today (9th of May, 2014) and tomorrow, the team will be performing demonstrations at the Imperial Festival in London, and then fly off to Hong Kong, where in the end of the month they are going to reveal details about the prototypes at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
Image (c) Imperial College London Aerial Robotics Laboratory