3D print­ing ro­bot to fill pot­holes and ice rinks

The Witness - Wheels - - BIKING - NICK LAVARS

FROM fill­ing pot­holes to re­pair­ing busted power lines, main­tain­ing a city’s in­fra­struc­ture in­volves some se­ri­ous man hours.

This labour- in­ten­sive task has re­cently be­come the tar­get of some roboti­cists and en­gi­neers, who have set their sights on au­tomat­ing at least part of the process.

Now startup Ad­di­bots is look­ing to get in on the ac­tion, wheel­ing out a rov­ing 3D print­ing ro­bot it imag­ines will scoot around town mend­ing dodgy road sur­faces. Dreamt up by me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer and Har­vard alumni Robert Fl­itsch, the Ad­di­bot is more than two years of re­search and de­vel­op­ment in the mak­ing.

Where con­ven­tional 3D print- ing is gen­er­ally lim­ited to pro­duc­ing items of a spe­cific size, re­strained by the de­vice’s build area, the Ad­di­bot team are aim­ing to break down th­ese bar­ri­ers to al­low for in­fi­nite 3D print­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.

In sim­ple terms, the Ad­di­bot is a 3D prin­ter mounted onto a mov­ing ro­bot.

The think­ing is that with the abil­ity to move to any de­sired lo­ca­tion, the Ad­di­bot can print larger ob­jects, po­ten­tially on any scale.

So rather than 3D print­ing in the con­ven­tional sense, where an ob­ject is cre­ated within a workspace and then re­moved for use, the Ad­di­bot ap­proach is to rein­vent that workspace by al­low­ing the tech­nol­ogy to op­er­ate in just about any en­vi­ron­ment where there’s a flat sur­face.

They demon­strated the prin­ter on an ice rink, ex­pelling freez­ing wa­ter onto cracks in the ice sur­face, freez­ing on con­tact in around 700 mil­lisec­onds.

Ad­di­bots is now de­vel­op­ing a new dis­tri­bu­tion ar­ray that can ac­com­mo­date as­phalt ma­te­ri­als, with a view to tend­ing to cracks, larger pot­holes and even the com­plete resur­fac­ing of roads.

The com­pany says that its tech­nol­ogy could also pave the way for more ad­vanced road­ways in the fu­ture.

The think­ing is that to keep pace with ad­vance­ments in trans­porta­tion tech­nolo­gies, such as elec­tric cars, we will need to re­think how the roads them­selves are fab­ri­cated.

By bring­ing 3D print­ing into the mix, Ad­di­bots claim it would be able to blend con­duc­tive ma­te­ri­als into road­ways for trans­mis­sion of elec­tri­cal power, for ex­am­ple, or add sen­sors to al­low com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ve­hi­cles.

They could also make for more ro­bust roads by print­ing ma­te­ri­als for added strength, such as car­bon fi­bre.

The com­pany says its first prod­ucts will be un­manned au­ton­o­mous units, but it even­tu­ally plans to of­fer a num­ber of mod­els in var­i­ous sizes at dif­fer­ent price points.

Th­ese will range from small units you can rent from a home im­prove­ment store to pave a new drive­way, to manned units for larger scale projects.

— Giz­mag.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Har­vard alumni Robert Fl­itsch ( 22) with his pro­to­type Ad­di­bot, a 3D- print­ing ro­bot that he aims to send out to fill pot­holes on roads made for elec­tric cars.

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