July 14, 2014

In December 2013, Amazon announced Prime Air with a goal to get packages into customers' hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles. But it will still take some years for the company to advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.

But Amazon is not the only company working on developing drones for commercial operations. Researchers at Sheffield University has successfully printed a working drone earlier this year. And it took them less than 24 hours to make.

This 1.5m wide prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) were unveiled in March and was printed using Stratasys Fortus 900mc FDM 3D printer. "All parts required for the airframe can be combined onto a single build within our Fortus 900, taking less than 24 hours with ABS-M30 material," says Mark Cocking, additive manufacturing development engineer in the AMRC Design & Prototyping Group. "Before design for additive manufacture optimisation, this airframe would take over 120 hours to produce."

The UAV has already completed a test flight as a glider. Researchers are developing an electric ducted fan propulsion system that will be incorporated into the airframe's central spine. They plan to develop the craft for guidance by GPS or camera technology, controlled by an operator wearing first person-view goggles.

Dr Garth Nicholson who led the project said: "Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion. We are also investigating full on-board data logging of flight parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology. Concepts for novel ducted fan designs are also being investigated".

The Sheffield UAV comprises nine parts that can be snapped together. The materials for each drone is said to cost only £5.50 ($9).

It weighs less than 2kg (4.4lbs) and is made from thermoplastic. The engineers are currently evaluating the potential of nylon as a printing material that would make the UAV 60 per cent stronger with no increase in weight.

Researchers said that the 3D printed unmanned aircraft that could be disposable and sent on one-way flights for delivery, search or reconnaissance purposes.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Anja wrote at 7/15/2014 3:46:46 AM:

Thanks Unica & Rita, corrected.

Uncia wrote at 7/15/2014 3:21:04 AM:

Sorry, but you made a mistake at the beginning. Should it be "December 2013"?

rita wrote at 7/15/2014 3:02:43 AM:

In December 2014? 2013

Andy wrote at 7/14/2014 9:29:38 PM:

120 hrs to produce an airframe like that??? The RC industry makes those in a couple seconds out of styrofoam (in a mold). And it's probably even lighter and cheaper.

michaelc wrote at 7/14/2014 7:57:28 PM:

Looks like the handling in the air is kind of sloppy, but that could just be the pilot. It is a great example of how model plane hobbyists are going to have some great capabilities when the appropriate hardware is developed.

Ahal wrote at 7/14/2014 3:41:47 PM:

Innovative? Yes, if it's open source. Then it can serve as a reference design, and the community can solve all mentioned research questions. Think Arduino. If not: cool, it's an airplane..

elfranz wrote at 7/14/2014 2:49:19 PM:

coolest application seen in a while.

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