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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance


Talking Tech

Building to New Heights: the Implications of 3D Printing-Capable Drones for the Construction Industry

Proptech Real Estate Emerging Tech 21 October 2022

The recent innovation of drones with highly accurate 3D printing capabilities has significant future applications in the construction industry. How should businesses engage with this new technology in their negotiations and address the potential legal issues that could arise?  

A Breakthrough Innovation

In a September article in Nature, a team of UK and Swiss researchers reported their successful creation of aerial drones capable of 3D printing structures out of foam and special cement, with a manufacturing accuracy to within five millimetres.  

The AI-guided drones, able to work individually and in groups, consist of 'BuilDrones' (which deposit materials) and 'ScanDrones' (which measure output and perform depth scans to create 3D maps). The drones are an important proof of concept for a scalable solution to help with the construction and repair of buildings.

Drones in Construction – Future Applications

Demand for drones in the construction industry is increasing, as companies look to drones as a reliable method for land surveyance and infrastructure inspection. According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the global market for construction drones is expected to reach US$11.97 billion by 2027.

However, the development of 3D printing-capable drones is poised to push demand even higher. Though manufacturing and robotics technology require further development before 3D printing-capable drones can debut on full-scale construction projects, these drones are indicative of significant future potential, including:

  • Reducing the need for scaffolding, large construction machinery, and large numbers of human workers on-site;
  • Streamlining the work on complex construction projects; and
  • Assisting in remote or disaster-hit locations.

Ultimately, the potential upside benefits of these outcomes make it likely that drone technology will continue to be pursued and improved.

Legal issues

Sophisticated companies considering how 3D printing-capable drones may one day be integrated into their construction business should consider the potential legal issues that could arise, such as:

  • The regulatory framework: In Australia, for example, commercial drones must be registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Commercial drone operations are subject to safety limitations imposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (Cth), which may affect situations in which drones can be used in construction. In addition, drones with audio-visual capabilities are subject to the Surveillance Devices Act 2007 (Cth) and operators must be careful to avoid breaching confidence as well as data privacy laws in respect of recorded or relayed information.
  • Contract negotiation: when negotiating contracts such as construction contracts or drone services agreements, the scope of work to be carried out by drones should be carefully discussed and agreed upon. The use of drones may impact points around timeline, coordination with site personnel, workmanship and surety, and construction and/or design defects. Clauses sensitive to the possible technological issues faced by drone technology should also be discussed.  
  • Insurance: insurance policies may need to be reviewed to ensure the impact of drone technology is taken into account.


While 3D printing-capable drone technology is still at an embryonic stage, it is important for businesses to start considering the legal issues that could arise from the use of this technology together with the impact that this technology could have on the contractual framework currently adopted by the construction industry.