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Finished version of Buildrone undergoing tests

What is this?

Buildrone is a flying robot that can spot leaks and fix pipelines from the air in hard to access and hazardous areas. It aims to reduce risks engineers would otherwise face when performing repair tasks and to help prevent endangering lives unnecessarily.


The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and the subsequent clean up effort, where humans were sent into the nuclear reactor meltdowns after the robots that were sent in quickly failed amid all the debris and radiation, highlighted some of the issues robots face when working in challenging environments. I started researching hazardous occupations that involve routine inspection and repair tasks and discovered that work at height and chemical exposures are the lead causes of fatalities in the oil & gas industry globally. There is a pressing need for technology that prevents endangering lives unnecessarily and protects people's health and wellbeing.

How does it work?

Buildrone is comprised of two subsystems that are the focus of development: a deposition mechanism and a delta arm. The deposition mechanism houses disparate repair chemicals depending on the type of repair application required. Buildrone is configured to carry out its repairs by depositing liquid polyurethane foam sealant on a leaking pipeline. The delta arm, mounted underneath the drone, is designed to help it apply material precisely over the site of the repair and to keep the tip of the arm steady despite external disturbances such as wind gusts. It is able to do this effectively by decoupling its motion from that of the drone to form a two-bodied system. After the foam is applied, it takes less than five minutes to fully expand upon contact with air to effectively seal the area. The foam sealant is an ideal material for this application due its lightweight that's within the drone’s payload limit, and can expand up to 25 times its size after it hardens.

Stages of development

The idea was conceived in attempt to create a drone that can 3D print from the sky by excreting materials that can be used to repair or build structures. Particular attention at early stages was paid towards identifying a repair material that was both lightweight and durable, and one that was also versatile and could be deposited satisfactorily from the air. Although the first prototype developed was functional, the material deposition was imprecise and the flight time was too short due to the mass of the prototype and the turbulences created from the drone flying near the ground. Since then, I focused on aerial repairs as priority instead of aerial 3D printing and prioritised keeping the mass of the prototypes as low as possible and on developing a permanent solution to cope with imprecisions. To date, several iterations of the prototypes have been created, repairs with a flight precision accuracy of ±2cm while hovering have been achieved with the delta arm (up from ±15cm initially). The design of Buildrone has remained modular from conception to present, allowing for various tools and chemicals to be easily mounted to the drone depending on the future repair task needed, because the goal behind Buildrone always to design a product that greatly improve people's lives.


First proof-of-concept Buildrone prototype

The James Dyson Foundation
Images Source:
The James Dyson Foundation