3D Printing Robot May Be the Solution to Potholes

3D Printing Robot May Be the Solution to Potholes

A Harvard grad steers us closer to self-healing cities

Anna Johansson
  • 3 february 2016

It’s winter, which means roads everywhere are becoming damaged as melting snow gets inside the cracks of the asphalt, freezes, expands, and forms big gaping holes in the road. You’ve probably seen more than one person standing on the side of the road next to a blown tire, and there’s no end to the cursing of the roads that won’t be fixed until spring.

What if one day that could all go away? In the future, it might be possible for potholes to disappear in a matter of hours, with the use of one Harvard graduate’s invention. Robert Flitsch is presenting the world with what he’s calling the Road Engineering Addibot. It’s a 3D printing robot that can use raw materials to print layer upon layer until a surface is built.

Addibot Patent Figure Advanced Roadway

It’s exactly like a desktop 3D printer, except without the bulky, boxy design. It’s mobile and can steer itself or be driven via remote control to deliver printing services wherever they’re needed.

Ice Resurfacing Addibot

Twenty-two-year-old Flitsch says he got the idea because of the restrictions of stationary 3D printers.

“One of the main limitations with 3D printers is, you typically have it printing inside this box, and you can really only print objects of the size of the workspace you’re printing in,” Flitsch told Popular Science. “If you take additive manufacturing implements and make them mobile, you can print objects of arbitrary size.”

The Addibot can detect an uneven surface, fill it with the corresponding material, and move on to the next gap. There’s an array of nozzles beneath the robot that can lay down printed materials to repair a variety of surfaces.

It was first tested on an ice rink to see if it could repair the scratches and nicks made by ice skates. It detected an uneven surface, then “printed” water that had been dyed with food coloring and cooled nearly to the point of freezing. When the water hit the fissure, it froze on contact, providing just enough water to deliver an even surface. Once it was proven successful, Flitsch decided it was time to move on to something more useful.

Laying down water that quickly freezes to form a layer of ice is significantly less complicated than laying down layers of thick tar to repair a road. Flitsch is currently looking into different methods to make that possible.

“All the storage for material, all the chemical processing could be done on board the Addibot,” he 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.”

He’s got the basic understanding of how such a machine could be built, and now all that’s left is gaining the resources to make it happen. Of course, there will be some issues that need to be repaired, such as dust on the road messing with 3D prints, and making the Addibot road-worthy, but Flitsch is quite confident that these trials can be overcome..

CEO-Robert-Flitsch-with-Ice-Resurfacing-Addibot (1)

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this invention is its abilit to help provide a self-sustaining city in the future. With this kind of material, repairing potholes in the road is just the beginning. The ability to transport a 3D printer anywhere eases the fixing of major city damage on a daily basis, including construction damage, bridge repair, and so much more. It’s one step in the right direction for cities that can repair themselves, even when the wear and tear of daily life brings them down.

Robert Flitsch

Potholes via Shutterstock

+mobile robotics
+road maintenance

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