Welcome to the future of shopping: the 3D printed drone

Generally when Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), otherwise known as drones, hit the headlines the story relates to their use on the battlefield. The recent innovations in unpiloted aircraft, however, also offer many entirely prosaic possibilities.

3D printing UAV

Security detail, package delivery and non-military reconnaissance work could all be carried out by drones and it is with these purposes in mind that researchers from Sheffield University have just created the first ever 3D printed drone, which, they say, can be fired off for a material cost of just £5.50 in less than a day.

Drone 3D printing

The 1.5 metre wide prototype UAV was created on a Stratasys Fortus 900 MC FDM device and completed its first test flight as a glider. The next step is to develop an electronic ducted fan propulsion system that they can incorporate into the airframe, which can then be controlled using GPS by a user wearing goggles that give them a first person view from the drone.

Additive Manufacturing Development Engineer in the group Mark Cocking explains:

All parts required for the airframe can be combined onto a single build within our Fortus 900, taking less than 24 hours with ABS-M30 material. Before design for additive manufacturing optimisation, this airframe would take over 120 hours to produce.

3D printed drone

Project leader Dr. Garth Nicholson further explains the team’s plans for the UAV:

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. Concepts for novel ducted fan designs are also being investigated.

They are also investigating the possibility of printing the drone in nylon instead of the thermoplastics currently used that, while adding nothing to the 2 kg weight, will make the UAV 60% stronger.

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