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Flying robots build 20-foot-tall tower

The first installation to be built by flying machines opened its doors to the public Dec. 4. The installation, called "Flight Assembled Architecture", was conceived and built by teams led by Fabio Gramazio & Matthias Kohler as well as Raffaello D'Andrea at ETH Zurich.

Robotic quadrocopters — that is flying machines with four rotors — have built a 20-foot-tall tower of polystyrene blocks at a museum in France.

This may come as bad news for unemployed construction workers hoping for a bright future building next-generation skyscrapers, but it's yet another way robots are aiming to re-shape the global workforce.

In this case, an architect still draws up a blueprint for the building, but computers and robots do the rest — interpreting the blueprint and controlling the crew of robotic copters, for example. 

The first public job for this system was the "Flight Assembled Architecture" exhibit at the FRAC Center Orleans, billed as the "first installation to be built by flying machines."

The exhibit is the work of ETH Zurich roboticist Rafaello D'Andrea and architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler.

Like any construction site, a safe operating environment is essential. To avoid collisions, the robots reserve air space on one of two "freeways" before they fly. 

"The system ensures that while a space is reserved, only the reserved flying vehicle has access — all other vehicles must wait before flying through the space," the team explains in a media release.

This system also prevents collisions with the tower, since the tower itself is considered reserved airspace.

Each robot has a specially designed gripper to hold and place the bricks. The researchers also figured that quick flights are essential to prevent factors such as air turbulence resulting in a misplaced brick.

Perhaps the speed will also cut down on construction delays, giving the robotic workforce another edge over their human counterparts.

The tower on exhibit is 20 feet tall and made of 1,500 blocks. It's a model of a futuristic 2,000-foot tall "vertical village" that could house 30,000 people — assuming 30,000 people want to live in a building assembled by robots.

[Via CNET]

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.

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