Jan.29, 2014

At first, the idea of swarms of 3D printed drones may seem terrifying, but experts of many stripes see the advantages offered by customized drones. Let's start with 3D printed drones in the military.

Image credit: 2SEAS

Right now, the U.S. military has a problem: it takes too long to acquire new aerial fighting machines. These machines are large, expensive manned aircrafts built in small numbers. For example, the military purchased 187 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, for $366 million per unit. Ben Fitzgerald, a rising star in future war strategy circles, has a solution to this problem. The solution involves 3D printing, robotic assembly lines, and many, MANY drones.

Experts agree that the future of combat will involve unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Fitzgerald together with co-author Dr. Aaron Martin – both experts in national security and strategic planning – published a paper last month which presents a vision of this future where the role of 3D printing technology is central.

The main idea of the paper is basically that – in theory – the military could build thousands of customized drones out of 3D printed parts which would be assembled by robots both day and night. These drones could then be launch in swarms and operated remotely from "digital pilots."

The image is creepy and may inspire reflexive swatting. But perhaps it is also comforting that the future of war may move farther from humans in some respects.

The paper describes its vision in these terms:

"This paper envisions a future for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in which development cycles are short, production schedules are accelerated and both overall and unit costs are reduced to create an environment in which forces can surge rapidly to meet operational needs.

This vision is contrasted with the current paradigm where the U.S. Military spends billions of dollars per year to develop and acquire weapons in a system that is "outdated, expensive, inflexible and slow."

It is perhaps unsurprising that military and security experts like Fitzgerald and Martin tout the benefits of 3D printed drones, but customized drones also seem to be increasingly popular in the civilian realm.

Earlier this month at CES, TV personality and professional homemaker Martha Steward expressed her enthusiasm for drones to TechCrunch: "I am very interested in drones, actually, I would like my life to be run by drones."

Clearly, interest in customized drones has moved beyond the confines of Chris Anderson's do-it-yourself drone universe, DIY Drones.

A great example of expanding interest in 3D printed drones is the project CADDrones by Joshua Allen Johnson – a 21-year-old CAD engineering student from Minneapolis who was inspired to start his own do-it-yourself drone universe after working as an assistant administrator to Anderson. With CADDrones Johnson wanted to create a community similar to Anderson's, but specifically focused on designing drones, drone parts, and replacement parts like cogs for traditional helis.

CADDrones is an open-source community for hobby and commercial drones where all sorts of people and companies may come together to share information about making customized drone parts using 3D printing. Through sharing CAD files for drones and parts – as well as sharing tips on designing drones with CAD software and 3D printing, Johnson hopes that his site and the services found there will increase access to 3D printed drone parts and decrease costs for all members of the community.

From maker communities like DIY Drones and Cad Files to the military and Martha Stewart – the swarm of 3D printed drones seem to be moving closer.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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rspehr@gmail.com wrote at 1/31/2014 3:18:09 PM:

You should add GRABCAD to your sources for 3D models. GRABCAD has a website that already does what you wanted to do. Maybe you should have them aquire your site.

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