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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.