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Drones built a canopy that can follow the sun

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Autonomous building is here

Aerial shot of canopy (c) ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart, M. Aflalo, J. Chen, B. Tahanzadeh (original image by Marco Castro Photography)

The future of architecture is here, and it looks a lot like a bee building a hive. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Computational Design and Construction recently showed off a new concept called Cyber Physical Macro Material, which in plain english translates to: drones building stuff.

People sitting under shaded canopy (c) ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart, M. Aflalo, J. Chen, B. Tahanzadeh

The ICD, which is known for its wild architectural experiments, has explored drone-built architecture in the past, but this is the most sophisticated example of the technology yet. Using drones, the researchers were able to build and manipulate the shape of a canopy in real time, turning it into a morphing shade that reacts to the world around it.

Drone carrying canopy module (c) ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart, M. Aflalo, J. Chen, B. Tahanzadeh

The canopy’s shade is built out of carbon fiber modules that are integrated with sensors and communication technology. The drones, which are programmed with certain behaviors, communicate with each module and are able to grab the lightweight shades like an insect carrying pollen and hook them into place. It’s pretty remarkable to watch.

The researcher say they can program the drones with behaviors that allow them to be responsive to what’s happening in the environment. Imagine a swarm of drones that knows where the sun is and builds shade accordingly. Or drones that can sense atmospheric data and will build a canopy before it starts raining. Granted, we’re still a ways away from truly useful responsive architecture, but experiments like these give a little glimpse of what’s to come.