Apr. 26, 2015 | By Kira

Most technological breakthroughs are the result of recognizing a flaw or limitation within existing industrial practices—such as the lack of a mobile platform for 3D printing objects of limitless scale—and having the creative urge to experiment and resolve them. That spirit is precisely what inspired the Muppette project, a mobile, UAV that can 3D print a concrete-like material in remote areas, without traditional X-Y-Z axis constraints.

Gensler, an LA-based architectural and design firm with a penchant for technology-driven solutions, is the company behind the research project, which stands for Mobile Unmanned Printing Platform (the ‘ette’ suffix designates it as a small version of the scalable vehicle). It is essentially a carbon composite hexacopter with a 3D printing extruder attached to the bottom, allowing for in-air extrusion of PLA plastic filament. The concept was developed due to the realization that the 3D printing industry is currently limited by the relatively small size of most print beds. Rather than trying to increase the size of the X-Y-X axis constraints, as most engineers have tried, the Gensler team envisioned a solution that would remove them entirely. As their website states, they are “laying the foundations for the creation of technology capable of making anything of any size, anywhere.”

The research team consists of designers Jared Shier, Tam Tran and Mindy King, who started from the ground up by 3D printing their own components for the concrete extruder and then attaching it to the bottom of a multi-rotor craft, along with a gimbal for stability. PLA plastic filament was chosen due to its light weight, availability of components and lower melting point. While in-flight, the vehicle’s legs retract, allowing for more maneuverability and unlimited design freedom.

Applications for the laptop-controlled hexacopter could include social and humanitarian missions. For example, in the video below, Shier describes a city cut-off from conventional modes of transportation by a natural disaster. In this situation, large-scale MUPPs could be deployed to build rudimentary shelters for refugees, allowing them to focus on finding food and water. In the future, the technology could also be used in commercial construction sites, with multiple MUPPs teamed together to form the basis for an autonomous workforce.

The project, which began one year ago this month and has just received a second grant to continue research and development, still has significant pros and cons. For example, while 3D printing is a relatively slow process, requiring the precise layering of extremely fine materials, the Muppette deposits a much larger quantity of material at a time—up to one inch layers, compared to the .10mm layers found in traditional 3D printing. While finesse and precision might be lacking, the upshot is speed and efficiency: an emergency 8x8ft shelter, for example, could be printed in one day. Other challenges include the limited carrying payload capacity of most drones, which could be addressed by teaming multiple UAVs together for more complex fabrications.

Future improvements could include sonar sensors, localized GPS, addressing the impact of the blade’s wind currents on the PLA projection, and combining multiple Muppettes, which with a specific function. At the moment, however, the marriage of advanced consumer robotic technology with 3D printing is extremely promising and, until now, uncrossed frontier in the realm of technological advancements.

 “This represents only the very beginning of a multi-year endeavor,” said the team. “We welcome community contributions to this promising new adaptation of mobility and 3D printing.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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newtoon wrote at 5/3/2015 12:19:46 PM:

Not mupette, poopettee

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