Jan 31, 2016 | By Alec

Drones have become something of a staple in within the 3D printing community, and that’s hardly surprising. Hugely fun to fly and relatively easy to build, they’re a source of fast-paced entertainment that almost always ends in an anti-climactic crash. However, designer Roger Freeman reminds us that 3D printed drones don’t have to be simple, delicate and accident-prone toys. For more than a year now, he has been working on the Freebird Flight, a top level, completely 3D printed and highly efficient drone that is weatherproof and is even functional – working excellently as a snow or a leaf blower. This could be the most impressive drone we’ve seen in a long time.

The story behind the Freebird Flight is one that will doubtlessly sound familiar to a lot of makers. Though Roger had more interest in than experience with tech gadgets, he took some time off from his ordinary working existence and started tinkering. Initially starting out with a Cubex 3D printer and getting familiar with Fusion 360 CAD software, his interests peaked when buying a basic drone. “Like most new drone owners, I crashed it in our back yard and broke one of the arms. As I was trying to locate replacement parts, I glanced over at the printer and it occurred to me I could probably make replacements. A couple of months later, I thought I’d try to develop something better than what was available – in particular something larger that could be used for all sorts of applications and that was more weather tolerant,” he says of the origins of the 3D printed Freebird drone.

Though starting out in the summer of 2014 with a basic ABS/PLA 3D printed drone, he soon found himself upgrading to a Lulzbot TAZ 4 3D printer for its ability to 3D print a wide range of new materials. Upon discovering MatterHackers, he became addicted to their Proto Pasta carbon fiber filament. “I could now print much thinner, much faster, and with absolutely no warping. The design at the time, and which I stuck with for a couple more months after the carbon fiber was introduced, more closely resembled a tradition quadcopter with four arms,” he remembers. “Even with the carbon fiber, I still had problems with arms breaking off over time because of the heavy load (up to 25 pounds) being carried by the arms in conjunction with vibration from the motors.”

With his added experience, the initial designs changed after a surge of inspiration. “It was to be an airframe that enclosed the blades (for safety), but in a way that actually increased the strength of the overall frame by distributing the vehicle’s weight and motor torque stress evenly to avoid concentration of stress at just four points – something I now call a SurroundFrame,” he explains. While other enclosed designs exist, those do little to increase efficiency.

The result, a drone with a 3-foot diameter called Freebird One, was very cool, but still too heavy at 20 pounds or so. “The wiring couldn’t stand up to the high current pull. A couple of times it even caught fire in the air! As it was winter at the time, electronics and motors were repeatedly destroyed by flying in the snow,” he remembers. “Even so, I discovered the first alternative use for a large UAV with a lot of prop wash: an airborne snow blower. It was good for up to four inches or so of snow and could clear our driveway in minutes operated from inside the warm house! But it could do even more than a regular snow blower. It cleared snow off the cars and then off the roof of our house.” And who doesn’t want a drone that’s both fun and functional?

Roger continued upgrading this initial purposeful design to make it lighter, weatherproof and capable of carrying equipment and attachments around. Now, more than one and a half years after starting, the fully 3D printed Freebird One is finished. “The only purchased components are the electronics and propellers, though I have successfully printed propellers that work, and may eventually switch to printed props after testing is completed,” he says of the achievement.

And its stats are certainly impressive. Weighing just 8 pounds without a battery, it can fly up to 35 minutes at a time and has a maximum speed of 70MPH horizontally and 3,000 feet/minute vertically. It can even carry up to 20 pounds in payload, with the strength provided by a 9 horsepower setup of four brushless motor. It can also withstand most types of weather, from snow, rain and winds (up to about 50 MPH), making this the capable 3D printed drone we can think of.

You’ll therefore be pleased to know that Roger does have plans for commercialization, in which 3D printing will continue to play a role. “After having issued RFQs for injection molded parts, it is not clear that I can get parts made to the tight specs I have been achieved through 3D printing. Given the nature of this project, every gram of weight matters a lot, and in particular the strength-weight dynamic, he says of his plans. “As a result, the current plan is to actually build up a 3D printer “farm” to produce parts quickly. I have improved print settings to the point where the parts coming off the printer require little to no post-processing.”

Of course, this will still take some time as Roger is still working hard on some attachments that will make the Freebird One a real tool, instead of a toy. Snow or leaf blowing are just two examples of what can be achieved, and as this build features enclosed blades Roger feels that a lot of blowing applications can be found. “The UAV works well as a gutter cleaner with a 3D Camera (in a 3D-printed weatherproof case) sending a live video feed  to a pair of goggles, allowing for precise maneuvering in tight spots,” he says as an example. “The possibilities are endless – both for consumers and businesses.” We can’t wait to see the results.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Ross wrote at 2/2/2016 1:11:33 AM:

Snow blowing...Are you kidding me?

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