It was noble when the elderly folks living near Fukushima offered to handle the cleanup of radioactive waste. (They wanted to spare the younger folks from living decades with the consequences.) Sending in a 3D printing drone to do the dangerous work, on the other hand — that's just plain awesome. Firing foam from its belly-mounted cannon, this one-of-a-kind hexarotor drone could eventually take radioactive cleanup out of human hands.
Developed by Dr. Mirko Kovac and his team at Imperial College London, the 3D printing drone works in tandem with a second waste disposal unit. When radioactive material is discovered in a disaster zone, the 3D printer flies in first, coating the hazardous waste with an adhesive foam. As the foam expands, the disposal drone zips in and lands in the gunk. After the foam has hardened, the disposal drone simply flies away to a safe disposal site.
The whole operation is done autonomously. The drones simply need to be given the coordinates of the offending waste and off they go. In the lab, the drones have proven capable of lifting objects weighing as much as 5.5 pounds. A larger version of the disposal drone that's capable of lifting nearly 90 pounds is also in the works.
On long-haul cleanup jobs, the drones could have their conventional batteries replaced with rechargeables and onboard solar panels. Perching in the treetops while charging, the drones would also give other cleanup crews a bird's eye view of the task at hand. As for that flying 3D printer, we assume that waste disposal is just the tip of what will be a massive iceberg of possibilities.
Via New Scientist