Automated Helicopter Construction

Riley —  February 16, 2011 — 4 Comments

Architectural design and construction could go any number of ways in the future, but I want to imagine for a second one particular direction. The first part is fairly standard – you meet with the client, discuss their needs and wants, check out the site, and start brainstorming ideas. Once you get one you like, you render it in a 3d modeling program and take your client on a virtual 3d tour of their new building. This process repeats until a final design is reached, at which point you login to a construction website, upload the plans, they swipe their payment card, and you press “build.”

Somewhere else – it could be thousands of miles away, or just a few blocks – a smart factory begins cutting and compiling the various components of your structure. Within a day it has created all of the necessary parts from its stockpiled material, and loads them onto a automated transport that takes them to the build site, which has already been cleared, leveled and excavated by a team of automated robots. A new fleet of flying robots begins to assemble the structure, and working around the clock, has it built within a couple of days. The whole process is overseen by a human foreman who makes sure everything is running smoothly. Although the building still needs to be finished and furnished, the basic structure is complete.

Now that sounds like a farfetched and ridiculous scenario, and to an extent it is. This kind of process would almost completely do away with the gravity and commitment of building a structure. The time and material costs that go into construction have a profound impact on what we choose to build and even the way it gets designed. But we’re moving closer to this kind of a reality. A team at the University of Pennsylvania has developed a fleet of flying robots that can build simple structures. All the user has to do is specify what kind of structure, then the program decides how and whom will build it.

This is mind blowing stuff. Just to be absolutely clear, these robots aren’t being remotely controlled. They are simply remotely connected to an overseer algorithm that controls them based on the structure that gets inputted.

Even if these aren’t used in the way I described above, I think we’re going to start seeing them used commercially in the near future. Even for something as simple as cleaning the windows of skyscrapers, automated flying robots would likely be a more cost effective, safer way to operate. Their precision and adaptability makes them useful for any number of tasks. But then they are pretty futuristic, and are likely to make a lot of people uncomfortable. What do you think?

Source: NewScientist.



Riley MacPhee is a recent graduate of Pomona College with a B.A. in Environmental Design and a minor in Philosophy, and has been writing for the JA blog for the last 3 years. He is passionate about architecture and design, and will be applying to M.Arch programs in the fall.

4 responses to Automated Helicopter Construction


    Latest Edition of the Economist had a full feature on manufacturing done by printer. Software designs developed by humans then literally printed layer by layer using plastics, metals and lasers. They predict it will transform manufacturing. They’ve built violins, airplane wings. Similar to your article and concept. Think how the marriage of these could work. You could bring a printer on site and use components built there just bringing in raw materials.


    That’s a good point that I hadn’t thought of. I’m familiar with 3D printers, but I didn’t know they could print metal. Harvey Mudd has one, so for the engineering class I took two years ago we got to print a model of what we had designed. I’d love to read that article though, do you have the link?

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