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industrial robot

Danish designers envision autonomous 3D printing robots for fixing the environment

Three Danish companies, GXN Innovation, the research wing of 3XN; Map Architects and The Danish AM Hub, the additive manufacturer have collaborated to form an initiative named Break the Grid. According to Break the Grid, coastlines and buildings could be maintained by autonomous 3D printers that have the ability to fix problems. It has proposed that by making 3D printers which can move and act independently problems such as damaged infrastructures and erosion of coastlines can be tackled. The 3D printers are visioned to have the power to move across all three forms of physical communication, land, sea and air.

Kasper Jensen, GXN founder said that it could be a revolution if 3D printers would be “freed” for tackling the challenges. If 3D printing robots are made to crawl, fly and swim then environmental threats can be handled at much lower costs with increased efficiency.

For tackling three separate cases, the companies have developed three different concept designs. In all the situations, the environment is scanned autonomously by the robots and the problems are then identified for the implementation of solutions.

In one of the designs, the robot can move underwater and construct artificial reefs. This can protect the coastlines from erosion and also provide habitat to aquatic creatures. It would function by extruding a mixture of sand from the ocean floor and glue which is inspired by a natural adhesive produced by oysters. In the meantime, a six-legged robot would scan the cities for micro-cracks and repair them. By detecting them early, the damage could be fixed before water further creeps in causing corrosion.

The land-based robots are visioned to 3D print a porous filler with a mixture of Trichoderma reesei, promoting the formation of calcium carbonate which creates a self-healing material. It can also patrol the infrastructure in urban areas remotely.

Another concept is drones operated in the air which can detect the damages in old buildings and then swoop in to repair the damages. It is based on the research that thermal insulation can be built using a customized composite of polymers and glass. The team has already been working on modifying the existing 3D printers for building the prototypes.

Mads Kjøller Damkjær, CEO of Danish AM Hub said that new approaches to construction can be built using converging technologies. New possibilities can be visualized only by the change of current ways of thinking which needs a combination of technology and design. Recent 3D printing developments have involved a plan for the 3D printed village and a stage for dance performances built by ETH Zurich students.

wild bees

Scientists find bees using plastic for constructing their nests

Bees have been building their nests in the Argentinian crop fields with the help of strange materials. Scientists have detected bee nests which have been built fully from plastic waste. Plastics come to the farms in a variety of ways such as packaging. In these changing environments, the animals have to adapt to the conditions and it is up for debate whether they can keep up with the human activities.

A team of researchers from the National Agricultural Technology Institute in Argentina detected nests built from plastic in their research of chicory pollinators. For the research, the team constructed 63 trap nests in the fields. These nests are similar to the bee hotels which are built in the backyard of homes for solitary bees. It contains long hollow tubes which resemble the honeycombs in which bee larvae grow. These cavities are lined by bees with materials such as stones, leaves, mud. Then they use these materials for building the nests in the cavities that are separated into brood cells each containing one growing bee larvae. The study is published in the journal Apidologie.

The team checked the trap nests over the spring and summer of 2017, 2018 to check the signs of any bee activity there. Only three nests were used by the bees out of which two were built with the help of mud, stones. From the nests, five healthy bees came out. The third nest was built with plastic by the bees, distinctly shaped to oval and oblong structures. It contained three cells, two built from thin, blue plastic and the third made from thicker, white plastic.

Scientists mentioned in their paper that one of the three cells had a dead larva and an adult emerged from another cell, with the third cell left unfinished. This makes the indication that plastic may not be the ideal material for building although it is not the worst either.

The team could not identify the bee to the certainty that built the nest, however, it might be an alfalfa leafcutter bee. It is a European species which the team had previously noticed in the site. It works alone, uses the leaves for lining the nests and has been previously documented by scientists in North America while using plastic to construct bee cells.

Using plastic might have other advantages which are not yet known to us, however, it is difficult to make a single conclusion from only one nest. Although, it is an indication that bees are flexible to the changing environments and can use alternate materials for construction

Researchers show the test device for assessing the heat-moving capabilities of the cooling wood.

Researchers develop sustainable wood with improved cooling capacities

It would have been awesome if instead of using expensive devices, the building material of the house performed the cooling and reduced the electricity expenses. Scientists from the University of Maryland and Colorado have used the technology found in nature for solving the heat problems which is also sustainable. The results of this study have been published in the Science journal.

Researchers have found the solution in wood which is sustainable and is already used for building homes. By using the structures found in wood, the cellulose nanofibres and the chambers which allow the passage of water and nutrients, the optical properties of the wood expel the heat.

Professor Jian Li of Northeast Forestry University remarked that due to this research, wood can be used in fighting the current energy crisis. University of Maryland professor, Liangbing Hu along with the co-authors of the paper Tian Li and Shuaiming He has been working on the advanced applications of wood for several years now. The team has invented many wide-ranging technologies based on wood such as transparent wood, affordable batteries based on wood and also a water purifier.

The cooling wood is only composed of wood and it does not contain any other component like polymer. When it will be used for building purposes, this material can cool down the building without the help of external sources such as water, electricity.

Lignin is removed from the wood, which is the component responsible for the strength and brown colour of the wood. By removing it, researchers manufactured a pale wood comprising of cellulose nanofibres. For making it water repellent, a hydrophobic component was added for protecting the wood. This led to a white building material suitable for making the roof of buildings to repel heat.

For testing purposes, the wood was taken to the farms in Arizona which has sunny weather. The cooling wood was tested and they found that on average it remained five to six degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the normal temperature. Even in the hottest time of the day, the wood remained cooler than air. When compared to the normal wood in sunlight, it remains 12 degrees cooler.

On the strength aspect, the per weight mechanical strength of the wood is more than steel which is why it is very suitable for construction purposes. As compared to natural wood it is 10 times stronger and also passes the scratch test.

Researchers found that in hotter cities like Phoenix, Honolulu this cooling wood would save the maximum energy and in the buildings made after 2004, it would save 20% of the cooling costs.