Research: 3D Printers Work in Tandem


Hosted at New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, a multidisciplinary robotics team is working at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering to design autonomous systems for 3D printers intended for future mobile construction projects.

The project is being supported by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Research

Comprised of professors from the Departments of Civil and Urban Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering at NYU, the robotics research team is made up of Chen Feng, Maurizio Porfiri, Ludovic Righetti and Weihua Jin.

Each member of the team is slated to focus on a different aspect of the project, ranging from autonomy and controls to real-time systems and networking. What makes this project different from other 3D printing technologies, however, is that the printers are intended to be placed on robotic arms and will be attached to mobile, roving platforms.

In a concept called "collective additive manufacturing," the researchers plan to create a functioning team of robots, equipped with printers, machine learning and various artificial intelligence capabilities. Once developed, the mobile 3D printers would work in tandem to complete tasks such as bridge or tunnel repairs, deep ocean work, disaster relief, construction and rebuilding efforts.

As reported by NYU, the key challenges for the project include:

  • Planning and Localization: Printers must be able to localize with respect to each other and the structures they are building as it changes and grows, and do so without relying on global positioning systems, particularly for extraterrestrial applications;
  • Model Predictive Control: The mobile base and manipulator must be both efficient and stable enough to achieve printing that is both fast and of high quality, and able to adapt in real-time to unexpected or unwanted variations in the real-world conditions at the site, or in unexpected variations in how the printer head deposits cement or other material; and
  • Printing and Coordination: Synchronizing the motion of multiple printers using the designs of the parts to be printed and the actual evolving structures themselves as maps for the physical coordination of printing robots

For the Planning and Localization portion of the project, Feng intends to focus on proactive localization process challenges so that the robot will know when it requires a high degree of precision.

“The robot must be able to move quickly to the printing area, observe the real conditions—such as uneven ground, since the real world isn’t planar—then make compensations immediately,” Feng said.

Righetti has been tasked with the real-time optimal control algorithms of the mobile printers, which will help to allow the robot to quickly adapt to its environment. Righetti says his research will also help the technology to, “observe what is being printed, autonomously associate it with the project design, and recognize instantly if the printed structure has deviated from it, and by how much, and all the while decide what are the next best actions to ensure proper printing of the structure.”

While Jin plans to assist in developing new composite materials suitable for mobile 3D concrete printing, the mathematical framework necessary to allow the robots to autonomously coordinate their actions within an environment is slated to be constructed by Porfiri.

“Different from drones flying in formation or autonomous cars keeping distance from each other, our mobile printers leave a unique footprint in the physical environment: the object being printed,” Porfiri explains. “My work will leverage this very footprint to establish effective algorithms for coordination and collective printing.”

As an additional part of the project, NYU students are invited to participate in the study’s industry workshop on CAM, an outdoor public exhibition, affordable and open educational kits on CAM, K-12 desktop-scale CAM competition and entrepreneurial activities. NYU student efforts will also be considered in completing the research project.

Other Mobile Robots

While mobile 3D-printing robots are still being developed, technological advancements are still taking place in the industrial sectors.

In August, researchers from the University of Waterloo were reported to be developing a reliable robotic inspection technology that can reduce the cost of bridge inspections. A paper on the research, "Automating Data Collection for Robotic Bridge Inspections," has since been published in the Journal of Bridge Engineering.

At the beginning of last month, the Department of Energy’s Blade Reliability Collaborative and Sandia National Laboratory was researching how to noninvasively inspect wind turbine blades for visible and hidden damages in a faster, more detailed way then traditional human inspections with cameras. The department’s plan is to outfit flying and crawling robots or drones with special scanners to aid in inspection services.

By the end of the month, the 4D Hybrid Autonomous Robot project announced its official debut. Designed to perform detection and reparation of metal vertical surfaces on land and offshore environments, the 4D Hybrid Autonomous Robot was developed by Prima Industrie (Italy) and funded by European Commission Horizon 2020.

Prior to most recent news, in 2017 NASA launched a 3DD Printed Habitat Challenge, which planned to use 3D printing robots to create homes for future astronauts on different planets. Habitat finalists were announced in April of this year.


Tagged categories: 3D printing; 3D Printing; Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; Robotics; Technology; Z-Continents

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