Army To Test Quick-Build 3D Printed Drones

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U.S. Army researchers are experimenting with making 3D-printed drones on demand. The Army Research Laboratory recently proposed the concept as a means to quickly build and deploy small unmanned aircraft in the field. The idea won a spot in the 2017 Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments, which allow selected project teams to demonstrate new technologies, the Army said in a news brief this month. According to leaders of the On-Demand Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems project, such drones could be ordered and built in 24 hours using parts that can be assembled with simple tools. The drones could perform any number of tasks from transporting items to security detail. "Small UASs can also be used to investigate weapons of mass destruction at a safe stand-off distance, looking beyond gaps, collecting forensic data, and breaching complex obstacles such as those that require hover-flight capability," according to the team's paper on the project.

Some of the challenges include developing software to integrate computer-aided designs and 3D printing. The goal would to make parts quickly and keep them on hand to assemble drones on order, reducing the time and costs of deployment while allowing for inexpensive ways to replace obsolete equipment, the Army said. The research laboratory is working with Georgia Tech's Aerospace Systems Design Lab on the project. While specific designs have yet to be discussed, the Army's illustration of the concept indicates 3D printing could help fill the brisk demand for handheld drones similar to the popular Raven UAS, which has a wingspan of about 4.5 feet and weighs just over four pounds.