3D printing robot to fill potholes and ice rinks
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.
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.