John Gerdes

ARL’s 3D Printing Produces Custom Drones

Feb. 6, 2017
U.S. ARL engineers have developed the means to design and assemble custom tactical UAVs using 3D printing technology.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are becoming more a part of modern warfare and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has done its part to apply technology to the design and creation of “on-demand” drones for specific mission requirements. ARL engineers recently visited with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Benning, Ga. as part of the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments (AEWE), intended to showcase their efforts in the three-dimensional (3D) printing of parts for custom drones built for tactical applications.

“We’ve created a process for converting soldier mission needs into a 3D printed On-Demand Small Unmanned Aircraft System, or ODSUAS, as we’ve been calling it,” explains Eric Spero, team leader and project manager for the ARL’s “design-to-order drones” project. The system relies on collecting requirements from soldiers, which are fed into mission planning software. The system can work with these inputs to develop optimal drone configurations for those requirements and deliver a design within 24 hours.

“We thought they’re not going to think that’s fast enough, but, actually it was the opposite,” says Spero. “The timeline of 24 hours to receive a mission-custom UAS fits right in line with the way they plan and execute their missions.”

The ARL team put in the time to flight test and verify their 3D UAV designs before the recent AEWE demonstration. The ARL engineers work closely with partners at Georgia Tech’s Aerospace Systems Design Lab to develop the 3D printing and other technologies to meet present and future requirements in the battlefield.

About the Author

Jack Browne | Technical Contributor

Jack Browne, Technical Contributor, has worked in technical publishing for over 30 years. He managed the content and production of three technical journals while at the American Institute of Physics, including Medical Physics and the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. He has been a Publisher and Editor for Penton Media, started the firm’s Wireless Symposium & Exhibition trade show in 1993, and currently serves as Technical Contributor for that company's Microwaves & RF magazine. Browne, who holds a BS in Mathematics from City College of New York and BA degrees in English and Philosophy from Fordham University, is a member of the IEEE.

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