The architect’s vision for a robot-assembled tower.

Co.Design

First Time Ever: Flying Robots Build 20-Foot-Tall Tower [Video]

Are construction workers the next industry to be outsourced to a robotic workforce?

Flying robots at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, have built a nearly 20-foot-tall structure based on blueprints designed by Swiss architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, with assistance from Zurich roboticist and professor Raffaello D’Andre. The tower was built by four quadrocopters--worker-bee-like mobile flying machines that use four rotors for better agility--that were programmed to lift, carry, and assemble 1,500 polystyrene foam bricks to complete the design.

Entitled “Flight Assembled Architecture,” the exhibition, which opened on December 4, is a 1:100 scale version of a large-scale, 2,000-foot-tall “vertical village” that could house 30,000 inhabitants. This “revolutionary assembly apparatus,” the architects say, addresses a new way of thinking about architecture as “a physical process of dynamic formation.” In other words, they’re re-imagining the role of the architect in a new digital environment. “We do not design architecture solely by drawing,” they wrote in advance of the show, “but conceive spatial relationships and contextual behavior through programming.” Each quadrocopter uses three pins to puncture, hold, and carry the bricks while a motion capture system on the ceiling directs where the foam bricks are placed.

So yeah, it’s not quite Jetsons-level. But in the video above, the little machines move around pretty efficiently. They lower the foam bricks into place aggressively, after testing showed that gentler landings were more affected by turbulence. And to avoid collisions, the vehicles use two "freeways" around the tower by reserving the space required for any particular flight trajectory.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from Gramazio and Kohler--in 2009, we reported about their project for NYC, in which they used car-assembly robots to create an undulating brick wall. Ho-hum. Those robots didn’t fly.

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