By David McNally

Soldiers witnessed the innovation of Army researchers recently during flight testing of 3-D printed unmanned aircraft systems that were created on-demand for specific missions.

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command invited engineers from the Army Research Laboratory to Fort Benning, Georgia, last month, to showcase new technology at the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments, or AEWE.

3-D Printed Drones Fly High
Although the system has the capability of autonomous pre-planned flights, Soldiers can also fly the system manually with an off-the-shelf controller. (U.S. Army photo by Angie DePuydt)
Although the system has the capability of autonomous pre-planned flights, Soldiers can also fly the system manually with an off-the-shelf controller. (U.S. Army photo by Angie DePuydt)

“We’ve created a process for converting soldier mission needs into a 3-D printed On-Demand Small Unmanned Aircraft System, or ODSUAS, as we’ve been calling it,” said Eric Spero, team leader and project manager.

With this concept, once a patrol requires UAV support, soldiers input all their requirements into mission planning software. The system then knows the optimal configuration for the aerial vehicle and it’s printed and delivered within 24-hours.

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

Researchers said they felt the combination of 3-D printing and UAVs was a natural technology solution.

“Drones or quadcopters are really getting big right now, I mean in particular just the commercial and hobby markets have shown what can be done with a small amount of money,” said John Gerdes, an engineer on the project.

“Additive manufacturing or 3-D printing has become huge and everybody knows all the great things that can be done with 3-D printers. So we figured let’s assemble these two new technologies and provide a solution to soldiers that need something right now and don’t want to wait for it,” Gerdes added.


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Images courtesy of US Army