CONTENT PREVIEW
Military Capabilities

US Army Research Lab develops small, on-demand 3D-printed UAVs

03 January 2018

Key Points

  • ARL developed the ability to quickly develop a small, 3D-printed UAV in hours
  • This will enable expanded capabilities in tactical realms such as situational awareness

The US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) developed the ability to produce small, additively manufactured – or 3D printed – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in hours.

Warfighters can select from different UAVs for their specific mission via a software catalogue, according to an ARL video. ARL engineer Larry Holmes, in the video, said this capability allows the army to provide warfighters with the right tools at the right time since the service cannot always stock and store all the different types of required tools. He said turnaround time could range from minutes to hours.

Lance Corporal Nicholas Hettinga, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, prepares to pilot a 3D printed unmanned aircraft system during a 27 September test flight at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Army Research Lab (ARL) has developed a capability to additively manufacture small, expendable UAS in hours. (US Army)Lance Corporal Nicholas Hettinga, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, prepares to pilot a 3D printed unmanned aircraft system during a 27 September test flight at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Army Research Lab (ARL) has developed a capability to additively manufacture small, expendable UAS in hours. (US Army)

“Having an additive manufacturing capability near the point of need or near in-field operations would allow for soldiers to be able to manufacture those tools whenever they need them,” Holmes said.

ARL project lead Eric Spiro said in the video that speed of production and costs are two advantages of these small on-demand UAVs as he envisions them to be modular systems. Elias Rigas, a division chief in ARL’s vehicle technology directorate, said in a press release that things like additive manufacturing with materials, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and unmanned system technologies will enable the army to bring together technologies that will provide for a decisive edge on the battlefield.

However, these small UAVs also have challenges. ARL engineer Jolie Frketic said, in the video, that she would like to improve the printing speed and printed part strength. She said it often takes three to four hours to print a small part and that she would like to cut that in half. Frketic also said she would like to have a 3D-printed part that was as strong as injection moulded part.

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