Feb.28, 2014

Virginia Tech College of Engineering will host a first-time university-wide competition for students to design on-demand, remote-controlled aircraft and ground vehicles that is able to be made almost entirely by 3D printing.

All Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students, individually or in groups, are invited to participate. $15,000 in cash prizes will be offered through the competition, including $3,000 for first prize in each of the air and ground vehicle competitions and $250 for each team that creates a functional vehicle.

The goal is to build an operational, remotely piloted ground or air vehicle made entirely or almost entirely via 3D printing that will allow future deployed military or civilian engineers to fabricate remotely-piloted vehicles while in battlefield or austere environmental conditions, such as the site of a natural disaster to search for survivors or carry out reconnaissance missions.

"The Additive Manufacturing Grand Challenge combines two emerging technologies, 3D printing and autonomous systems to challenge and inspire students to team and create innovative solutions for ground and aerial vehicles," said Al Wicks, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the university's Mechatronics Lab. Wicks is organizing the competition with Christopher Williams, head of Virginia Tech's Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab, along with the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation.

DREAMS Lab / image: Virginia Tech

The Air Force's Office of Scientific Research is providing the majority of funding for the competition, with other sponsors including the National Defense University's Center for Technology and National Security Policy.

The challenge, according to organizers, is motivated by a vision of on-demand manufacturing in remote locations via additive manufacturing as civilian and military organizations plan to design shipping containers that contain several 3-D printers. Those printers then can be used by engineers or even lay persons to simply download and print replacement parts, or fabricate novel mission-specific parts on-demand.

As part of the competition, to simulate harsh or remote conditions, student teams will be challenged to create a ground or air vehicle using only the raw material of a 3-D printer and a provided standardized, off-the-shelf electronics kit, such as motors, battery, receiver, etc., according to challenge organizers.

At the competition finale - to be held May 15th on the Virginia Tech campus – student participants will pilot their printed ground/air vehicle around an obstacle course. Designs will be judged both on their ability to navigate the course -- time to complete mission and number of obstacles cleared - and their effective use of additive manufacturing - time to print and assemble, number of 3-D printed parts that comprise the vehicle.

The challenge at Virginia Tech is seen by the Air Force as the starting off point for larger, future competitions at U.S. universities that have established 3-D printing lab programs.

"At the Air Force Research Laboratory, our mission is to lead the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for America's aerospace forces," said David Stargel, division chief of Dynamical Systems and Control at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. "Additive manufacturing is a potential game-changing manufacturing technology for our military platforms. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research is excited to help lead the development and education of our future engineers through this Grand Challenge competition on the design of additive manufacturing."

Future competitions likely will include high schools, private tech firms, and other hobbyists, as the Air Force seeks to spur a growing engineering workforce in both 3-D printing technology and deployable manufacturing.

Posted in 3D Printing Events


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