Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing: Distributed Unmanned Aerial Systems for in-situ manufacturing of the built environment

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Aeronautics

Abstract

Additive Building Manufacturing (ABM) is transforming the construction industry through the 3D printing of buildings and building components. A number of countries are now demonstrating ABM can substantially reduce construction time, material and transport costs, improve worker safety standards and alleviate construction's impact on urban traffic congestion and the environment. ABM also provides geometrical variety at no additional cost. In contrast to most manufacturing sectors, variety is a necessity within construction to satisfy different client requirements and adapt to unique terrain, boundary and laws governing each physical site.
However, current ABM systems are difficult to deploy on construction sites due to their large size and fixed 3D Print build volumes that are not sufficiently flexible to deal with the complexities of most building scenarios, or provide adequate measures for human safety. These ABM technologies are unable to undertake maintenance and repair work, or construct buildings in many urban or elevated sites. They are also not able to be utilised for post-disaster reconstruction activities where their manufacturing speed would be of great assistance.
To address this limitation, this research proposal aims to develop the world's first Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing (Aerial ABM) System consisting of a swarm of aerial robots (Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)) that can autonomously assess and manufacture building structures. Aerial ABM offers major improvements to human safety, speed, flexibility, and manufacturing efficiency compared to existing ABM and standard building construction technologies. We have already developed and demonstrated pilot results using UAS that can extrude 3D Print material during flight and we have developed simulation environments that allow for autonomous planning and execution of manufacturing with swarms of UAS working in collaboratively.
Using the resources of the EPSRC grant, we will co-develop and demonstrate a working Aerial ABM system that will manufacture structural elements such as walls and a freeform building pavilion. This will require innovation and major technical contributions in Hardware, Autonomy as well as in Materials and Structures. Building on the consortium's world-leading expertise in these areas and support from industrial partners (Skanska, Ultimaker, BuroHappold, Dyson and BRE), we aim at delivering the following main research contributions through this grant:

Aerial ABM Hardware
- A novel Aerial ABM robot design with autonomous vision based stabilisation, navigation and mapping of a dynamically changing environment that is optimised for flight and 3D Printing tasks.

Aerial ABM Autonomy
- A framework for autonomous manufacturing that utilises swarm intelligence for collaborative robot-to-robot operations, dynamic task sharing/allocation, adaptive response to context and dynamic environment content involving functions such as new methods of collision avoidance.
- Develop new modes of communication and control that enable the safe co-existence and cooperation of human workers, other robots and Aerial ABM robots on construction sites. Novel research in human-robot interaction, feedback and haptic interface functionalities will enable manufacturing flexibility suitable for construction sites that are always unique in size, shape and contextual complexity.
- An integrated design and real-time structural analysis software that delivers optimal structural integrity from minimal material weight within building design strategies that leverage this free-form manufacturing process to create innovative building design possibilities.

Aerial ABM Materials and Structures
- Development of new high-performance 3D-printable composite material and deposition procedures for the additive manufacture (3D Printing) of free-form light-weight building structures utilising autonomous UAS.

Planned Impact

The three main impact beneficiaries are the construction sector, society at large and the environment. The Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing (Aerial ABM) system proposed in this application can provide substantial benefits by enabling autonomous capabilities of collaborative working with human workers, situational awareness in unknown environments and low-risk manipulation in dangerous settings. These capabilities will benefit the three beneficiaries as follows:

CONSTRUCTION
Construction companies such as Skanska are economically penalised for time over-runs. Our technology has the potential to reduce manufacture time and complexity while expanding capabilities by providing autonomous behaviours and sensing to predict, measure, qualify and expedite construction. This can provide major cost savings and increased profits.

Transportation accounts for 20% of construction costs [1]. Aerial ABM can significantly reduce transportation volumes as only raw material is delivered to site.

UK Government Construction Strategy mandates all construction projects to utilise 3D Building Information Models (BIM) technology by 2016 [2]. Aerial ABM is able to increase building efficiency by integrating BIM more effectively with the construction on site.

SOCIETY
Health and Safety:
"The construction industry is the most dangerous sector in Britain....448 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Over the same period, more than 760 construction workers have been killed on British sites." notes the UK Health and Safety Executive in 2014 after seeing an additional 3200 deaths from other construction related matters [3]. An Aerial ABM system can significantly reduce construction's 31% share of all UK worker fatalities [4] by reducing risk to construction workers in hazardous and labour-intensive tasks while allowing continued human participation in safer construction activities.

Increasing Housing Opportunities:
The UK is heading for a housing crisis where people cannot afford to buy or rent as a result of a shortage in housing and high costs of building. A RICS report forecasts house prices to rise 4.5%/yr for the next 5yrs [1]. Charities such as Shelter [5] advocate that the UK must reduce the cost and time of construction in order to make housing and other building services more attainable. Aerial ABM can help reduce the cost and time of urban construction, through a scalable and digital manufacturing process that saves construction time and resources.

Humanitarian:
A fast, effective means to undertake post-disaster re-construction and repair can save human lives directly and indirectly. Aerial ABM robots can commence work well before human workers can operate safely and they can do so in areas that are hard to access by ground. The technology can offer Governments and NGOs versatile, rapidly deployable, and low-cost solutions for emergency response and transitional shelter construction.

ENVIRONMENT
Aerial ABM enables almost zero percent waste construction while its on-site operation reduces transportation volumes. The insights from this project on novel structural and material engineering can also inform building designs requiring less material and lower logistic mass flows. These benefits reduce the embodied energy of buildings and enable reductions in construction's 47% share of the UK's carbon emissions.

[1] BIM Taskgroup, HM Government BIS, 2014
[2] BRE, Construction Site Transport, The Next Big Thing: Why Transport Is Important What You Can Do About It, 2003.
[3] http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-3040143/Housing-shortage-triggering-worrying-upsurge-property-prices-expectations-2-5-rise-2015.html
[4] Daniel Boffey, The needless death of Richard Laco and what it tells us about Britain's perilous building sites, The Observer, 2014
[5] http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/why_we_campaign/the_housing_crisis/building_more_homes/building_more_homes

Publications


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Kovac M (2016) ROBOTICS. Learning from nature how to land aerial robots. in Science (New York, N.Y.)
 
Title 3d Printing on an Inflatable Structure 
Description Within the Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing (Aerial ABM) project, Aerial Robotics Lab has run a number of workshops together with Architecture Association and brought roboticists and architects together to create the first 3D printed dome using aerial robots. A first version of the proposed dome structure was completed in December 2016. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact No impact yet 
 
Description The project has inspired a new approach of building manufacturing and infrastructure repair that has been demonstrated and communicated to the wider public, students and the government.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Education,Energy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Economic
 
Description Manufacturing Robotics - The Next Robotic Industrial Revolution
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL http://hamlyn.doc.ic.ac.uk/uk-ras/sites/default/files/Manufacturing%20White%20Paper.pdf
 
Description SAT - Semi Autonomous Teleoperation
Amount £157,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Innovate UK
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Title AquaMAV testing in wing and water tunnels 
Description AquaMAV prototypes were tested in wind and water tunnels that are part of the national wind tunnel facility. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The required setup included the design of an automated catapult launcher for the water tank and an automated data collection unit for the wind tunnel. These tools are useful and available for other projects. 
URL http://www.nwtf.ac.uk/html/index.html
 
Title Bioinspired technologies for construction and repair of the built environment 
Description Within the Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing (Aerial ABM) project, we take inspiration from biology to create novel printing, perching and flight technologies that are safer, more interactable and efficient. For example in smaller flying robots we take inspiration from house flies to create perching mechanisms based on mechanical intelligence of the body morphology. For larger robotic systems we rely on integration of complex control, sensing, and planning to enhance perching robustness. Inspired by ballooning spider, we have developed perching systems that enable stable motion of drones in 3D space based on strings and magnets. In order to develop efficient printing methods, we are inspired by nest creation methods employed by animals such as Swiftlet in nature. We have developed light weight deposition mechanisms and integrated them into flying drones that can turn Polyurethane foam materials into complex 3D structures that are more flexible in size and location. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact No impact so far. However, the work by Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing has been praised by a large number recognized academics and industrialists in the field, who are keen to collaborate with us on the existing or related future grants. This gives a very positive prospective for the societal and technological impacts of Aerial ABM within the near future. 
URL http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6288/895
 
Description Aerial Robots for exploration of hazardous environments: Robotic perching in Battersea Power Station 
Organisation Skanska UK Ltd
Department Cementation Skanska
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Cementation Skanska, also a partner on the same EPSRC project, is in charge of reconstruction of the Battersea Power Station. While they are still in the stage of demolishing of the existing structures in the power station, we have arranged a number of sessions (including a half-day session in November 2016) for testing of our novel perching technologies inside partially demolished structures. Development of efficient perching technologies is one of the key milestone for Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing enabling attachment to elevated structures to make a stable platform for printing.
Collaborator Contribution The partner has been offering a suitable site for testing of aerial construction technologies that are being developed within the Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing project. They are members of the project steering committee where they provide technical feedback and advice for possible improvements. Furthermore, they also have a very useful input into risk assessment documents for our in-flight printing and perching tests that can enhance the safety aspects of aerial robotic constructions.
Impact Creating new influential technologies requires expertise in design, implementation and testing. Cementation Skanska has provided a testing environment that can simulate the situation after natural disasters such as earthquake when a swarm of aerial 3D printers can fly to the disaster zone and start fast shelter printing to accommodate people.
Start Year 2016
 
Title Multi-sensor fusion for drones 
Description We have extended previous work, Open Keyframe-based Visual-Inertial SLAM (OKVIS), developed by myself. The framework forms the backbone of our autonomous drone flight software stack. Speficaally, we have developed a method and its implementation that can seemlessly transition between availability or unavailability of GPS, including RTK GPS. This will enable us to precisely navigate drones (centimetre precision). We have furthermore extended OKVIS to accept the Intel Realsense ZR300 RGB-D camera (plus inertial) feed. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The framework forms the backbone of our autonomous drone flight software stack. It will enable our drones to navigate with global centimetre accuracy, when GPS is available. This is a necessity e.g. when attempting to use drones to 3D print structure. But applications go far beyond, from surveillance to delivery to military applications with drones. The fact that we have integrated OKVIS with an easily commercially availble and self-contained sensor (the Realsense ZR 300) will speed-up our test and development cycle and would boost software adoption once released (which we might in future). 
 
Title Multicopter model-predictive control 
Description We have developed both linear Model-Predictive Controllers (MPC) as well as Nonlinear MPCs for accurate control of multicopter system. The algorithms and software implementation form an essential part in our drone operations. The approach allows for enforcement of both hard and soft constraints of the flight envelope, such that we can achieve both high precision, robustness, and safety. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The algorithms and software implementation form an essential part in our drone operations. The approach allows for enforcement of both hard and soft constraints of the flight envelope, such that we can achieve both high precision, robustness, and safety. 
 
Description BtS Conference (Croatia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Breaking the Surface Marine Robotics (BtS) serves as a prominent meeting place for experts and students of marine control engineering and signal processing and the marine robotics application areas. Dr Mirko Kovac presented the our latest aerial robotics technologies with highlights on the work on Aerial ABM at this meeting during October 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.marinetraining.eu/content/breaking-surface-2016-8th-international-interdisciplinary-field...
 
Description Drone Flying at Imperial Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have displayed autonomously flying drones at the Imperial Festival, an annual science exhibition for the general public. The audience experienced the direct outcome of our research in a very tangible way: even kids could get the drones to performe actions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival
 
Description Ecobuild Exhibition (Excel, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Ecobuild was a four-day event at Excel Exhibition Centre in London bringing professionals and researchers in the field of construction together to exchange ideas and demonstrate potential implementations for our future built environment. Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial has been invited to give a presentation on "Drones for construction and repair in future cities" as well as the opportunity to display novel technologies developed within Aerial Additive Building Manufacturing project to a wide range of audiences from industry to academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Imperial Festival (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Imperial Festival was a two day event where the Aerial Robotics Lab demonstrated new technologies for flight, perching, printing using quadcopter platforms as well as other flying robots to university students and schools.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival/
 
Description Invited Speaker in IROS'16 workshop "State Estimation and Terrain Perception" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact World-leading researchers in the field of perception / Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) attended this event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Mannheim Multihalle 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Lectures in Stuttgart and Berlin on Frei Otto's Mannheim Multihalle. Chris Williams was part of the original design team and is advising on the future use of and modifications to the structure.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multihalle
 
Description McKinsey & Co. Advanced EMEA Industries Conference: Our Unmanned Future (Rome, Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We were invited to present the vision of the Aerial Robotics Lab on "Our Unmanned Future", which included examples on using drones for construction and repair of the built environment. Over 400 professionals from high-impact industries such as Airbus and Ferrari and media professionals have presented and attended this event which had been instrumental in creating links for future project activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Research Colloquium (ETH Zurich) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Mirko Kovac presented our novel 3D printing and aerial construction technologies arising from Aerial ABM at the Research Colloquium on Building Technologies at ETH Zurich in January 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Research Talk (Livorno, Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In April 2016, Dr Mirko Kovac talked about the use soft materials in aerial robots to enhance the flight performance as well as creating support structures inspired by birds in nature. The talk attracted a large number of audience and his team were invited to write a book chapter on Soft Aerial Robots.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.robosoftca.eu/information/events/soft-robotics-week-2016
 
Description Research Talk (Perugia, Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Mirko Kovac presented the progress on 3D printing materials within the Aerial ABM project at the International Conference on Smart and Multifunctional Materials, Structures and Systems in Perugia, Italy. This presentation initiated new discussions for possible collaboration with colleagues at the Italian Institute of Technology on 3D printing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://2016.cimtec-congress.org/
 
Description Robotics and Autonomous Systems in UK Manufacturing 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The aim work of this workshop was to address the knowledge gap between RAS researchers, policy and the manufacturing communities. The specific objectives were to:

-Identify to the state of the art in RAS and how these technologies can address real-world manufacturing challenges.
-Identify areas of added value for RAS that can have long term impact on UK manufacturing.
-Support new collaborations between technology and application communities.
-Develop a strategy for RAS to support UK manufacturing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://hamlyn.doc.ic.ac.uk/uk-ras/events/manufacturing-workshop-AMRC
 
Description Royal Society (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The event was hosted by prof. Brian Cox at the Royal festival hall who was running a debate on Artificial Intelligence. Dr Mirko Kovac ran a 10 minutes presentation and live demo showing in-flight arm stabilization of a robotic arm methods for drones.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.imperial.ac.uk/festival/
 
Description Talk (RACE, Culham, UK) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Mirko Kovac presented latest technologies for aerial manipulation and construction at RACE in challenging environments Symposium, Culham, UK, during October 2017. The presentation has initiated a number of collaborative activities on the use of aerial robots in exploration and repair in challenging environments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.race.ukaea.uk/