U.K. engineers at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the University of Sheffield have successfully printed a 1.5-meter-wide prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for a research project looking at 3D printing of complex designs.
According to Sheffield, the polymer aircraft could form the basis of cheap and potentially disposable UAVs that could be built and deployed in remote situations, possibly within as little as 24 hours. A technique called fused deposition modeling was used to make the UAV, the university notes.
The aircraft weighs less than 2 kilograms, is made from thermoplastic and comprises nine parts that can be snapped together. The engineers, the university adds, are currently evaluating the potential of nylon as a printing material that would make the UAV 60% stronger with no increase in weight.
The UAV has already completed a test flight as a glider, Sheffield reports, and researchers are creating an electric ducted fan propulsion system that will be incorporated into the airframe's central spine. In addition, the engineers plan to develop the aircraft for guidance by GPS or camera technology, controlled by an operator wearing first-person-view goggles.
‘Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion,’ comments Garth Nicholson, the project leader. ‘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.’
Photo courtesy of the University of Sheffield