Researchers at the University of Sheffield’s Additive Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) have printed a 1.5m (4.9ft) wide drone in an attempt to research how the technology fares when building complex aerodynamic geometries.
Weighing less than 2kg (4.4lbs) and composed of nine snap together pieces, the AMRC UAV was built using an FDM process without any support material. While Sheffield’s current drone revision is only a glider, future models will incorporate more advanced propulsion mechanisms for greater control.
"Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion. We are also investigating full on-board data logging of flight parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology,” said Dr. Garth Nocholson, the UAV Project leader.
With further design improvements the Sheffield team believes their flyer could be one of the first craft to demonstrate 3D printing’s ability to produce disposable, quickly built UAVs; a change which could usher in a new era of aviation development and deployment.
3D printing could prove to be an invaluable tool for the aerospace industry, replacing expensive tooling with an all-in-one additive manufacturing approach. Leveraging rapid production techniques, a UAV armed with both GPS and an imager could be quickly deployed to remote areas of the globe, offering surveillance of natural disasters and humanitarian crises. What’s more, if deep-sea vessels could be equipped using state of the art printers, it could facilitate large search efforts – such as the one scanning the Indian Ocean for Malaysian Air flight 370.
Image and Video Courtesy of University of Sheffield