Today, the science feast Imperial Festival will take place in London, which will last until tomorrow night. One of the inventions presented at this festival is a drone. A drone: a dangerous weapon of mass destruction? Well, not really. What will be presented is a flying 3D printer that can be used to relocate nuclear waste.
They are actually two drones. The first one is a flying 3D printer and the second one is a drone which carries heavy objects. The flying 3D printer can build a “nest” and the other drone can carry heavy objects from places that are hard or dangerous to reach. The machines are autonomous and were invented by Imperial College’s Mirko Kovac, Adam Braithwaite and Graham Hunt. They got the idea by thinking of swiftlets who build their nest with their own spittle. The flying printer can almost do the same, as the quadcopter has the ability to 3D print structures and create a nest.
They can be used to print a case around chemical or radioactive waste in order to easily pick it up and fly away. Another purpose of the machines could be to use it to restore and build buildings. In both cases, humans would not have to perform dangerous work anymore. The most flying printers designed up to today are only small versions of what they one day could become, weighting only 2.5 kg.
As mentioned earlier, the system currently works with two flying robots working together to move the waste. The first robot prints sort of a glue on the upside of the object. Then comes a second robot, which lands on the object and waits until the glue has hardened. When that’s been done, it can remove the object to a location of choice. Imagine what the implications could have been for the Chernobyl workers if something like this would have been possible in the 1980s.
Image credits: New Scientist/ Imperial College London.