What the World Needs Now Is a Swarm of 3D Printers

3D printing is responsible for introducing some pretty exciting things to the world. Bioprinting may soon revolutionize the medical world, and additive manufacturing is bringing an unprecedented level of versatility and customization to the manufacturing industry.

As great as 3D printers are, they do have one major limiter, and that is size. You can’t print something larger than the printer itself.

Sure, we have 3D printers that are capable of printing buildings, but they are huge. If you wanted to build a 3-story office building you would need a massive, and massively impractical, printer.

But what if you could print large objects with multiple smaller 3D printers, instead of one large printer? If you could deploy a group of 3D printers that work collaboratively to create big objects, size limitations would no longer be an issue.

That’s exactly what researchers at Siemens are hoping to accomplish.

The company is working on six-legged robots with depth-perception cameras. These robots would be equipped with 3D printers, and would communicate with each other to work on large projects.

The robots would even work in shifts to eliminate downtime. A tired robot would transfer data to a new robot so that it could recharge and reload while the fresh-legged robot punches in. The goal is for the robots to be able to take a project and delegate it amongst themselves without the need for human interference.

Not only would size limitations disappear, but a system of 3D printers working collectively could have the potential to be faster and more efficient.

Imagine a termite colony. There are millions of tiny termites, smaller than a finger nail, all working together to build an enormous mound. Termite mounds reach heights of over 17 feet tall. A single termite could never hope to build something that big; however, when an entire colony works together as a collective hivemind they are able to produce these staggering termite monoliths.

The robots are not able to build much of anything as of yet, but it’s just a matter of time. Working together as a group – especially to the extent that the Siemens wants these robotic 3D printers to be capable of – is extremely difficult. How in the world do termites do it?