Aug 25, 2017 | By Benedict

Rhet McNeal, a 26 year-old Corporal from Griffin, Georgia, has designed a 3D printed drone called “Scout” that can be built for just $613, around 200 times cheaper than current drones used by the Marines.

The U.S. Marines are well on the way to becoming masters of 3D printing. Just a week after we saw the Marine Corps testing out its portable, four-printer X-FAB additive manufacturing lab, here we have news that 26-year-old Corporal Rhet McNeal, a graduate in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech, has made an ultra-affordable surveillance drone that costs a fraction of the price of the Marines’ current tech.

“Scout,” the fixed-wing surveillance drone built by McNeal, came about thanks to the 2016 Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge, which encouraged participants to come up with new tech solutions. The contest was organized by the Marine Corps’ Next Generation Logistics innovation group (NexLog), established in 2015.

But McNeal’s work on the project predates that competition by several months. The Corporal started work on the drone at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), but later won a four-month residency at Autdesk’s San Francisco Pier 9 Technology Center, where the Marine had access to heaps of 3D printing tech, as well as CNC machines, advanced software, and expert guidance from those in the field.

McNeal’s time spent at the Autodesk facility could reap big rewards for the Marines.

At present, the Marines use the RQ-11 Raven and the RQ-12 Wasp III drones, fitted with cameras, to carry out surveillance work. They cost $35,000 and $49,000, respectively, and require $100,000+ ground control systems, making them risky pieces of kit to use in case they break.

“We have these drones that do a hundred things that make them cost between $35,000 and $50,000, but the soldiers normally only use the two or three big capabilities,” McNeal explained. “I wanted to strip it down to what we actually use so that our drone does not cost so much we are afraid to use it—if you break it, not a big deal.”

Last year, McNeal’s “Adaptable and Affordable 3D Drones” proposal, written with a team of five other collaborators, was one of 17 successful ideas out of 300 submissions to NexLog’s 2016 Logistics Innovation Challenge.

“Every Marine has an assault pack that’s standard issue,” McNeal said. “I made my drone so it can snap apart into four parts and can fit into the pack. For somebody that has never messed with it before, it takes about two and a half minutes to assemble.”

It’s not just easy to build, either: it’s also really cheap. Costing just $613 with off-the-shelf electronics and 3D printed parts, the drone can be controlled with the Q Ground Control iPhone app. Everything included, it’s 200 times cheaper than the currently used Wasp system.

Whether the Scout gets put to widespread use depends on what happens next. Design files and build specifications for the 3D printed drone have been sent to The MITRE Corporation, which supplies and tests many of the Marines’ drones and which will attempt to certify the Scout.

If all goes well at MITRE, the Marines could have a highly cost-effective solution on their hands, all thanks to a contest and the engineering expertise of one of its Corporals.

“The Marines have always been pushing innovation and have always had that forward-thinking mentality,” said Jennifer Walsh, Innovation Challenge Lead at the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington D.C. “We want Marines to have the potential to use 3D printing or additive manufacturing to quickly go through the design process and make things possible.”

McNeal is now returning to training and service, but know that his brilliant creation could soon be flying overhead.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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CaptainObvious wrote at 8/31/2017 7:24:19 AM:

Actually, it's called Nomad and I designed it over three years ago, it's on Thingiverse under a Creative Commons license under the name "Nomad, an FPV/UAV 3D printed airplane" I can categorically state that Corporal McNeal is not the designer of that UAV and the extent of his design work seems to be limited to swapping the motor and propeller from the tail to the nose, something made easy by the modular nature of the design.

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