Questions for ‘Insect-inspired drones work together to 3-D print structures’

a photo of a drone printer "printing" a concrete-like structure on a tabletop

Two identical drones worked together to build a cake-sized cylinder. When one drone went to reload, the other hovered over the structure, squirting out ribbons of a cement-like material.

Imperial College London, University College London, University of Bath

To accompany Insect-inspired drones work together to 3-D print structures


Before Reading:

  1. Hornets build nests from chewed-up wood pulp. The well-organized interior of those nests consists of many little hexagons that collectively make a comb structure. This looks similar to bees’ honeycombs. How do you think an individual hornet might carry wood pulp? Physically, how might this hornet deposit the pulp? Considering the goal is to build a much larger structure, what factors are essential in depositing this wood pulp? Or, put another way, what must a hornet get just right when depositing the pulp to ensure the overall comb comes out correct and functional? Finally, come up with one question related to nest-building that you would ask a hornet if you could understand her answer.

During Reading:

  1. What animal species inspired Mirko Kovac in the work described in this story? What was it about these creatures that Kovac considers “incredible?”
  2. What material did the Build-Drone carry? Explain the Build-Drone’s role. Why was the Scan-Drone essential for building the structure?
  3. Describe the object printed by these drones during the second demo. 
  4. State one of the three requirements of the special “cement-like” material used in the second demo. 
  5. Describe one of the “virtual demonstrations” carried out by the team. 
  6. According to Andrea Tagliabue, what is one challenge left to solve regarding these drones? 

After Reading:

  1. Imagine you’re a roboticist living in the near future. Humans have made it to Mars and are working to build the first Martian colony! You are tasked with using your robots to build Martian homes in preparation for human colonists. But here’s the problem: Such a project requires lots of building material. And the cost of flying a single pound (about half a kilogram) of building material, such as brick, is $10,000! So carrying enough material from Earth to build these homes would be too expensive. Devise a possible alternative and write it down. Explain the role of your robots in completing this mission. 
  2. Describe three “tests” that Kovac says he’s planning next for these drones. In your opinion, which of these will be the most valuable to people? Explain your answer.
  3. Reflect on your answer to question #1 in Before Reading. Compare and contrast the process of 3-D printing with the process of nest-building. Identify one similarity shared by these processes. Then identify one difference.