If you aren’t convinced that robotic workers are the future of construction, prepare yourself for a rude awakening. Researchers at ETH Zürich's institute for Dynamic Systems and Control successfully programmed three quadcopters to autonomously build a 24-foot rope bridge sturdy enough to support the weight of an adult human. The research team claims this is the first time that drones have been shown capable of building “load-bearing structures at full-scale” and is but the first step towards application in real-world scenarios.
The dexterity and speed with which the flying drones carry out their tasks is so impressive we can’t help but draw comparisons with the movement of the feathered companions in Disney’s animated film, Snow White. Aided by a real-time motion capture system, the quadcopters evaluated the distance between the two scaffolds to calculate measurements and steps for building the bridge—all without human help. The three quadcopters were equipped with motorized spools of Dyneema rope, a material with a low weight-to-strength ratio, and worked in sync to weave knots, links, and braids to construct the rope bridge.
As the video above shows, the finished bridge is strong enough to handle the weight of an adult human. Though this is an exciting development in automated construction, it’s important to note the exercise was carried out in the RTH Zurich Flying Machine Arena, a highly controlled indoor testing ground. While the project does mark a big step forward in the possibilities of drone construction and even in future disaster-relief scenarios, we’ll need to wait a bit longer to see how well these drones perform in outdoor environments.