Addibots are self-driving and remote-controlled 3D printers that can smooth over roads… or skating ponds at the very least.
When it comes to 3D printing, who says you can’t think (and create) outside the box? Clearly not Robert Flitsch, a mechanical engineer and Harvard graduate who recently founded his own New York-based startup Addibots.
An Addibot is a four-wheeled robot that can be either autonomous or remote-controlled, and holds an array of printheads on its undercarriage that enable it to 3D print with various materials as it drives.
Breaking free from the restraints of conventional 3D printing, Addibot can move its printing components to any desired location and produce items of any size. Unlike most machines where an object is built inside the print area and then removed for use, this platform can turn any surface into a workspace.
“A central limitation of current 3D printing methods is the fact that they operate inside a workspace of finite dimensions,” Flitsch explains. “For many household 3D printers, these dimensions are merely a few inches in each direction. For these printers, larger objects can only be manufactured with larger printers, making the fabrication of sizable industrial products either incredibly expensive (due to astronomical equipment costs) or downright impossible (for objects, like buildings or bridge trusses, just too large for a printer of this type).”
Flitsch’s first prototypes were equipped with inkjet cartridges, designed to show off the Addibot’s concept in 2D. And since water possesses similar fluid characteristics to ink, the engineer — who also happens to be a lifelong hockey player — turned his attention to repurposing the bot as an ice resurfacing tool for skated-upon rinks. Like a mini Zamboni, the Addibot poured water that was cooled just above its freezing point into the slices and chips made by the blades, which would freeze on contact with the surface.
While the team notes that there are endless possibilities for Addibots, they are initially focusing their efforts on road repair and construction. They are working towards a new distribution array that can use asphalt materials, with hopes of fixing cracks, large potholes and eventually the resurfacing of our roadways altogether. The robot’s ability to streamline this process could potentially help public works departments and municipalities across the nation meet the massive demand for improved streets.
The robot operates much like any other 3D printer, just scaled down. Housed inside its chassis are multiple nozzles that lay down materials layer by layer, as needed. Impressively, the technology may even be able to one day “print” sensors into roads, which would be used for communication by self-driving vehicles.
“All the storage for material, all the chemical processing could be done on board the Addibot,” Flitsch told Popular Science. “Tar materials, which have to be kept at a high temperature, can be done in a tank with a constant heat source added to it. Power sources could be various kinds, depending on the size of the robot.”
Intrigued? Head over to its page to learn more, or see it in action above!