Quentin Lindsey, Daniel Mellinger, and Vijay Kumar from the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab—General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception—have devised a system whereby autonomous flying helicopters can assemble a rudimentary architectural grid using small magnetic beams.
This technology begs a series of questions, of course, including who might first pick up on and directly invest in this construction process (the field exploration wings of transnational oil-services firms? forward-operating base commanders of the 22nd-century U.S. military? rogue GSD students self-supported by a family trust fund?), what sorts of architectural styles might result given the technical and material limitations associated with magnetic cloud-construction (a return to the minimalist grid? Sol Lewitt as architectural progenitor?), and how successfully this could be scaled up to the dimensions of whole towns and cities.
It might not be altogether unfeasible, in other words, given enough time and investment, that we’ll someday see flocks of autonomous helicopters roaring off into western Australia, or into the Canadian Arctic, autonomously assembling supply-chain-governed grid-cities where every magnet, bolt, beam, and screw is dutifully accounted for and guided into place by intelligent airborne mechanisms. Then the humans move in.
Or, extending this into the clichéd territory where BLDGBLOG and the Terminator begin to overlap, perhaps the machines will construct factories for the production of more machines, which will then fly onward and further to build yet more factories, constructing a sovereign halo of autonomous machine-urbanism in the earth’s north polar latitudes.
5 thoughts on “Flying Robotic Construction Cloud”
It will also be interesting to see how small this technology can be scaled.
Sort of reminds me of that 80's film, Batteries not Included. I like the idea of some Bartlett students collaborating with some robotic students so next time we wake up and walk through one of the London parks, there's a swarm of them erecting some temporary pavilion somewhere. Perhaps next year's Serpentine Pavilion?
Next, guerrilla building where the Israeli "facts on the ground" style of architectural aggression becomes more widespread in Apocalypse Now style helicopter attacks where the helicopters drop kindergartens instead of bombing them.
Well, we have the sound right. Now all we have to do is nail the pollination part…
Seriously though, the limitation of this as it occurs to me is the ability to carry only one part at a time. On a large scale perhaps each unit would carry a 'magazine' of girders or other components. Though the vehicles would need to be more powerful to carry more weight, it seems likely to be more efficient. For inhospitable or dangerous environments there's a lot of potential behind this sort of technology. I can't help but think of those who died resulting from radiation exposure during the Chernobyl containment. Interesting stuff, though I don't think it'll be constructing urban skyscrapers any time soon; it likely couldn't ever match the efficiency and simplicity of a tower crane.
I guess this will open up a lot of exploration in connector design. Finally, we might be getting away from nails and shims in building!