Dec 21, 2015 | By Tess

Aerial drones have been making big headlines recently with companies like Amazon suggesting they can be used for delivery purposes and their photographic potentials gaining popularity. Considering all the press surrounding the technology, it can sometimes be easy to forget that aerial drones are not the only type of drone, and that others are also being developed for various useful purposes. Now, however, thanks to the help of 3D printing, attention is being turned towards the less chartered waters, so to speak, of submarine drones.

Blue Robotics, a Southern California company that specializes in manufacturing products for underwater robotics, has turned to 3D printing technologies to help develop, prototype, and manufacture certain parts for submarine drones.

The company was founded by Rusty Jehangir who explains that Blue Robotics was started out of a necessity to supply affordable and high-quality underwater robotics parts, which he himself could not find for a project he had undertaken.

As Blue Robotics’ website explains, “It all started when we decided that we wanted to try to send a solar powered robotic boat from Los Angeles to Hawaii. It was a fun side project: build a small GPS-guided solar-powered boat and send it from Los Angeles to Hawaii, completely autonomously. We wanted to do something cool that had never been done before. While researching components for the project, we realized that a the limiting component was the thruster.”

That is, Jehangir and his team could not find a suitable thruster that could both withstand the conditions of salt water and run continuously, all for an affordable price. During their research into the matter, they also found that many other people who were building marine robotics and drones were encountering the same problem, and that very few options existed for their field of interest. It was at this point that Blue Robotics was conceived as a company that could design and manufacture a thruster more “affordable, reliable, and more capable than anything out there…”

A big part of designing and manufacturing the underwater part for a low cost without affecting the quality had to do with Blue Robotics’ integration of 3D printing technologies into their process. To additively manufacture the parts, Blue Robotics enlisted the help of French 3D printing service Sculpteo.

Jehangir says, “The industry of Marine Robotics has stifled innovation by keeping the mechanics and technology expensive. With 3D printing people are able to prototype and final manufacture parts inexpensively and quickly.”

3D printing allowed the team at Blue Robotics to develop and test their product quickly and efficiently without having to make bulk orders, which is the norm for other manufacturing processes, such as mold injections. “Our thruster does have metal parts,” explains Jehangir. “But we were able to prototype for the hydrodynamic shape of the nozzle, and we were able to do it cheaply…”

By 3D designing and printing prototypes for the marine thruster, Blue Robotics was able to develop a unique product that allows for submarine drones to operate fully submerged in salt water thanks to a system that lets water pass through both motor and propeller.

The thruster, launched as the T100 Thruster through a kickstarter campaign in August 2014, was incredibly successful as it surpassed its goal of $100,000. Additionally Blue Robotcs’ submarine drone, which included the thruster won the Proto Lab’s 2014 Cool Idea Award. The T200, a more powerful thruster, is also now available on the company’s website.

3D printing has provided a way for many previously expensive and inaccessible industries to flourish and welcome innovation. The technology, as demonstrated by Blue Robotics and their 3D printed thruster, continues to show us that if something seems impossible or too expensive, there is an alternative.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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