May 28, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printed drones are supposed to be almost as capable as regular drones and suitable for all sorts of environments, that is obviously something that needs to be tested properly. But a video shown at the Xiangtan Hi-Tech Zone in China, shared by Liang Jianhong, an associate professor of Institute of Nechanical Engineering in Beihang University, seems to prove it. On it the blue skies and the endless whit ice of the South Pole was visible, complete with various brightly colored 3D printed drones disappearing into the distance.

These 3D printed drones were manufactured by the small 3D printing business Hunan Mengjing Three-Dimensional Technology Ltd., a high-tech enterprise in the Hi-Tech area of Xiangtan city in China, as part of an ambitious project. For from November 2014 all the way to March of this year, Liang Jianhong followed the 31st research expedition of the Chinese Antarctic Expedition Team. His goal? To fly the six drones he carried with him on the unique topography of the Antarctic ice and gather as much air data, complete with videos and photos, as possible. Throughout this amazing journey, Liang traversed a distance of nearly 30,000 nautical miles and recorded as much as possible about the project of the building of an ice airport by the Chinese team as possible with his drones.

According to Liang Jianhong the drones were unusual pieces of equipment that took more than a month to design. 'But by using 3D printing technology, they were completely made in only 15 days.' These unusual drones were only a third of the size of regular drones, featuring a volume of just 15x15x45 cm as well as foldable arms. Designed specifically for flights in the Antarctic area, the drones had no problems with conditions ranging from -15 ° to-20 ° Celsius. The professor further told reporters that, once the UAV's frame is folded, problems could occur with the control system. Despite this small flaw, this 3D printed drone reached top speeds in the range of30-40 km/h on the ice, while tests proved that it was structurally sound.

Now you might think that flying a cheap 3D printed drone around the park is fine, but that the machine is otherwise completely unsuitable for harsh conditions. After all, traditional drones are made from carbon fiber material and therefore quite capable of functioning in various conditions. Nonetheless, these much cheaper 3D printed drones were more flexible and therefore suitable for these exact tasks, the professor argued. 'It would costs three months to make a set of carbon fiber molds, and the cost of average made ones is 20 times that of these 3D printed drones. What's more, you cannot change the designs of those carbon UAVs,' says Liang, praising these drones which he believes are the first ever 3D printed UAVs to take to the skies on Antarctica.

Liang also shared his findings and experiences with Zhang Bo, the CEO of Hunan Mengjing Three-Dimensional Technology Ltd. Together, they discussed further cooperation and optimization of the 3D printed drones, both of whom are expecting to enter into mass production in the future. Zhangbo revealed that they have used powder processing 3D printing techniques to create a number of new drone components for future experiments. 'Whatever you can think of, as long as you can transfer it into a digital file, they can always be printed out. High-end products such as robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, general consumer goods such as a mobile phone shell, all be made with 3D printing technology,' the CEO optimistically stated.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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