Drones autonomously build rope bridge

Posted on 23 Sep 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

A team in Switzerland has managed to use quadcopter drones in order to build a small bridge between two points.

Researchers at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich have, for the first time, demonstrated the use of small drones for the construction of a larger structure.

A team of three specialised quadcopter drones was used to build a rope bridge with enough structural strength to carry the weight of a person walking across.

Working at the ETH Zurich Flying Machine Arena, a research space devoted to autonomous flight, the drones were able to physically map their internal space, before building a bridge without human interference.

The bridge itself was made up of 9 rope segments and spanned a distance of approximately 7.2m meters.

In order to allow this unique aerial construction, a super-lightweight 4mm rope made out of a material called Dyneema was used, which weighed a mere 7g per meter.

Each of the drones would care a high-tech spool of this rope which enabled them to accurately control its tension mid-flight.

Researchers at ETH Zurich believe that their demonstration will pave the way for the wider use of drone aircraft in construction.

“Traditionally, machines assisting in the construction of architecture or the fabrication of building components stand on the ground. The flying machine in contrast, is physically decoupled from its working space,” explained the team behind the project.

“The machines can move in and around existing objects and perform construction tasks that are not limited by the same constraints as ground-based machines. As a result, their use opens up new questions in materialising architecture.”

Increasing number drone uses

While previously drones had only been used for surveillance and combat, they are now being examined for a much wider range of civilian uses.

The most promising of these is for package delivery which is being developed independently by Amazon, Google and DHL, among several others.

As well, drones are being examined for other more far-fetched uses included broadcasting internet and even exploring the surface of Mars.