3D printed drone ushers in era of disposable aircraft

Low cost UAVs such as this could be sent on one-way search or reconnaissance missions, say engineers.

The 3D printed drone at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

A disposable 3D printed drone had been developed which could be built and flying within 24 hours.

Engineers at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield have printed the 1.5m-wide prototype as part of research into 3D printing of complex designs. The researchers said the low cost of printing such 3D aircraft could see them used for one-way flights for search, reconnaissance or even deliveries.

Ahead of its time?

Amazon's drone delivery concept: PR stunt or real innovation?

Cynics, optimists and realists will all have valid points about Amazon's drone delivery plans. In the meantime, Amazon has managed to dominate the headlines on Cyber Monday.

Read More

The engineers said the polymer craft could form the basis of cheap or disposable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which could, for example, be built and deployed in remote situations.

While earlier versions of the craft required significant amounts of support material around component parts to prevent the airframe from deforming during the build process, new 3D printing techniques — such as the fused deposition modelling (FDM) used to make the UAV at Sheffield — could reduce that.

The UAV has already completed a test flight as a glider, and the researchers are now developing an electric ducted fan propulsion system to incorporated into the airframe's central spine, and to fly the craft via GPS by an operator wearing first person-view goggles .

The Sheffield UAV comprises nine parts that can be snapped together, weighs less than 2kg and is made from thermoplastic. The engineers are looking at nylon as a printing material that would make the UAV stronger with no increase in weight.

Further reading