May 11, 2015 | By Alec

When it comes to 3D printing fun electronic toys, quadcopters have been in charge for a very long time. It has come to a point where 3D printing sites and forums seem to be completely filled with 3D printed drones. They’re a lot of fun to play with, but it’s also great to see that 3D printed drones come in all shapes and sizes, as 3D printing start-up Marble proves. This little known British team have just completed a very interesting airplane drone that not only looks great, but should also outperform your typical 3D printed quadcopter.

The MRB-1, as the drone is called, has been developed by aerospace engineer Mathieu Johnsson, who recently joined forces with four other engineers to reach a common goal: to develop next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of producing highly accurate maps of terrain in both 2 and 3D. Key in doing so is staying up in the air for a long time, which quadcopters are not generally known for. Therefore the MRB-1 has been designed as an airplane with a lightweight composite body, which is enabling it to stay in the air for much longer periods of time. It’s composite nature, meanwhile, makes it just as easy to disassemble and transport as a quadcopter.

As Mathieu explains in a blog post, his team have largely relied on a Form + 3D printer through the designing and prototyping stages of this interesting drone. ‘Whatever design we make, we only need a few hours to have it manufactured with the Form 1+,’ he says. ‘This helps designers try unconventional or risky ideas, without hours of preliminary analysis.’ While not all parts of the final design have been 3D printed, Marble have already 3D printed a library of parts for customization to make their drone suitable for their customers’ wishes. They also 3D print miniature versions of the drone for customers before making the final model.

3D printed prototype pieces for this gorgeous drone.

As Mathieu further explained, 3D printing technology has played a crucial role in ensuring that the final model is as lightweight and balanced as possible, to optimize flight time. An equally durable, stiff and lightweight engine mount would’ve been difficult to produce in another way. The wings – crucial in any airplane design – consist of a blend of composites and 3D printed parts to achieve the right aerodynamic performance and reduce drag as much as possible.

Relying on 3D printing has also made design time impressively short, as the team went from nothing to a flying prototype in just four weeks. ‘It gives us the possibility to manufacture small batches of early-version product that we will sell to customers before committing to manufacturing methods more optimized for larger scale production. Actually, for most parts we may not be able to manufacture them any other way, without compromising on weight or functionality,’ Mathieu said.

Taking to the skies. 

While this interesting drone is still in its prototyping phase, it has already completed quite a lot of flight time and is attracting the attention of various potential clients. Its developers have also already started work on the next models in this unusual drone series, again using the Form 1+. It is currently not known when these drones will be made available to the public – the Marble website is still largely empty – but there is some good news for those drone enthusiasts out there. The MRB-1 and other models will be showcased at the Spacetech Expo in Long Beach from May 19-21. If you can’t wait, visit them at the Long Beach Convention Center and check out what could be the future of consumer drones.  


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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