Mar 9, 2017 | By Benedict

Students at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) in Spain have won a prize for UrbanBees, a 3D printing project which proposes using swarms of bee-like drones to capture contaminating particles in the atmosphere before converting them into filament for 3D printing.

Unsure where to get your filament? Scratching your head over the cost of 3D printing materials? Well, how about plucking your next spool from thin air? Incredibly, that’s what a group of students in Madrid are proposing: they say that by using flying “bee” drones to collect pollutants from the air (like a bee harvesting pollen, you see), they can create recycled 3D printing filament. The students won an innovation prize at Madrid drone technology expo CivilDRON for their unusual idea, which they say could be implemented in heavily polluted places like China.

The bee drones would, according to the Madrid students, collect pollution from the air like a bee collects nectar from a flower. They would fly through highly polluted areas of the sky, using information gleaned from radio waves to determine where the pollutants can be found in the highest concentration. Harnessing those pollutants and getting them out of the air is a good thing in itself—China has already deployed drones to do this—but the students have a further plan: they want to turn what the drones collect into usable 3D printer filament.

If the Madrid students can get the drone 3D printing project to work (and that’s a big if—the students are currently taking their project to drone and 3D printing exhibitions to obtain financing), it’s easy to see the appeal of their plan: not only would the drones help to clear up pollution, they would also help local communities produce useful 3D printed items. The researchers suggest that glasses, bicycles, scissors, and cutlery could all be made from the pollutants, though the possibilities are endless. Perhaps future versions of the bee drones could themselves be 3D printed?

The UrbanBees team receives its award at CivilDRON 2017

IWe don’t know exactly how the students plan to turn polluted air into a 3D printing filament, only that they would target the various metals (aluminum, calcium, potassium etc.) in ultrafine PM10 particles, which are known to cause lung cancer. We also know that the proposed drones would be mostly autonomous, organizing themselves into formation and returning to charging stations when necessary.

At the moment, UrbanBees seems like an interesting but somewhat hard-to-execute idea. If the project gets some funding, we can see it generating a lot of “buzz.” And why wouldn’t you buy a filament made from Chinese factory gases? For now, however, we’ll wait patiently for more concrete updates.

CivilDRON, the drone expo where UrbanBees won its award, took place at the end of January in Madrid.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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I.AM.Magic wrote at 3/10/2017 8:00:58 AM:

I really hope they are not engineers..this is flawed on so many levels. Let's see a few points; drones? really ? their battery life is short. How will they capture pollutant? technique not approached in the video, usually the systems are bulky and not suitable for drone application. Do they know how much pollutant you need to take out of the atmosphere to make 1 kg of material? This is going to be the most expensive spoon (or whatever they'll want to make). Calling the 3D printing world saying they'll make us filament is just marketing by using buzzword (buzz like a bee). They mention airports, but do they know that drones are not allowed at airports for safety reasons? They even use trained birds to remove bird from the runaway. Saying this is a double benefit makes me die inside, this is a call saying "pollute ! we'll clean it up!". DON'T FREAKING POLLUTE! problem solved.

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