Drone Mania Aside, They Probably Won't Ever Build Our Skyscrapers

Drone technology and practical building materials don't add up to robot-built cities.

Apr 7 2013, 7:29pm

Drones are supposed to be the future of pretty much everything, so why not capitalize on that and have them build our skyscrapers for us?

OK, Fast Company, the premise of drones as construction workers seems plausible given we use them to package candy and assemble cars, but, if we really want flying robots building our skyscrapers, many things about architecture and drone technology need to change first. We don’t regularly use helicopters (like the twin-engine Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane for instance) during construction for a reason, and the average household drone struggles to lift one measly pound. As for architectural changes, we’ll have to stop using concrete and steel as building materials immediately to make this a reality.

This is exactly what three Swiss gentlemen, the architects Gramazio & Kohler and robotics expert and professor Rafaello D’Andrea, are advocating. They really want a future where robots build buildings, and they think changing what materials we build with will be easier than building flying robots that can lift heavier weights.

The three joined forces in 2011 to wow the French with basically an art installation of 1,500 foam bricks assembled by drones, on display until February of last year.

The flying machines constructed a 1:100 scale model of a 1,969 feet high “Vertical Village” meant to house 30,000 people living in Meuse, France next to the high speed TGV rail line. Oh, and the building has layers that are just parks. All quite fanciful and green and because the building wouldn’t use steel beams; it can take on any shape and even undulate with the wind!

In the Summer 2012 issue of the architectural journal Log, Kohler wrote, “As the load capacity of flying machines is limited and the machines’ agility directly depends on their load, the development of high-performance lightweight materials systems both aerially transportable and robotically deployed will be necessary.”

No details or specifics on what these new lightweight and high performance materials will be, however. Leave that to the scientists to figure out?

Do we really want lighter building materials when cities have recently been crushed by everything in Mother Nature’s arsenal, from earthquakes to landslides to tsunamis and hurricanes and tornados? If the three Swiss gentlemen would have it, yes, because it expands the architectural art form. All those global cement, steel, and oil corporations be damned.

Meuse seems a stable enough place to start this experiment too, as France has limited seismic activity: one earthquake in 1580, the last in 1909. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any real plans to actually develop the undulating building. Or, as a drone might joke, the project has no real plans to ever get off the ground.