Scientists have programmed robots to build bridges without human help

Hard at work.
Hard at work.
Image: YouTube/Federico Augugliaro
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Robots are muscling in on a growing number of human jobs every day, and now it seems we can add architects and builders to the list.

University researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich have designed drones that can work together to build a rope bridge between two sets of scaffolding. The bridge they built was about 24 feet across, and could actually support the weight of a person walking across it. The quadcopters were able to scan the distance between the two sets of scaffolding and figure out how build the bridge on their own, without human intervention. The drones had motorized spools attached to them, which allowed them to loop, braid and knot ropes together to build the bridge.

Image for article titled Scientists have programmed robots to build bridges without human help
Image: ETH Zurich Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control

While this research would be great news for anyone looking to build an awesome bridge for a new playground, it also hints at an autonomous future in construction. ”Flying machines offer a number of advantages compared to traditional construction machines,” researchers said on ETH Zurich’s website. “Specifically, they can reach any point in space and fly in or around existing objects.”

Ans it hints at a future where we’ll be able to point robots at a problem, and ask them to come up with a viable solution. There’s already a group of robots in Amsterdam—backed by Autodesk, the 3D software and printing company—that are going to build a walkable bridge over a canal on their own.

And this type of automation is going to become more commonplace, Autodesk’s in-house futurist, Jordan Brandt, previously told Quartz, as robots are designed to swarm and work together to build structures. “We need to copy spiders,” Brandt said. (The drones’ final product does, interestingly, look rather similar to a spider web.)

While the US is still trying to figure out how to incorporate drones into the public airspace, it’s likely that autonomous flying robots will take on a greater number of tasks in the future, from inspecting power lines and building sites, to delivering us packages. Perhaps soon they’ll also take over for human builders—but only once they can carry something heavier than a rope.