Two of the most talked about new technologies in our world today—3D printing and unmanned drones—are beginning to merge. A good example: Mobile 3D Printing, a research project in Gensler’s Los Angeles office attempting to create an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) fully capable of digital fabrication—freeing the technology from the constraints of boxes, robotic arms, and X-Y-Z axes.
Young Gensler architects Tam Tran and Jared Shier are spearheading the effort. Their vehicle’s name—MUPPette—stands for Mobile Unmanned Printing Platform. It consists of a carbon composite hexacopter,consisting of six blades, a gimbal beneath to stabilize the printer, and the battery-powered printer itself below, enabled with PLA plastic filament, the same material used in Makerbots and other fabrication machines. When the copter, controlled via laptop, takes off, its legs retract, allowing for more maneuverability. It can shoot out a relatively limited amount of PLA and can fly for about ten minutes at a time.
The project concluded its first year this spring, and the group recently received a second grant to hone the concept for another year. Improvements that the team wants to work out include adding sonar sensors to make real time flight and stabilization adjustments, adding localized GPS for greater precision, addressing the impact of blades’ wind currents on the PLA projection, and teaming the vehicle with others for more efficient and complex fabrication.
“It’s been exciting, exhilarating, and agonizing at the same time,” said Shier. “Unless you try to solve the problems you’re not advancing the technology.”
In the future—perhaps in a third year for the project—the group hopes to advance the technology to take on construction, which could be especially useful for producing humanitarian structures or for producing buildings in areas cut off from conventional modes of transit. Mobile 3D Printing is one of over 50 research projects funded firm-wide by Gensler.
“This is a frontier that we clearly hadn’t entered into before,” said Tran. “We want to see what can be done.”