The US Marines Just Created a 3D Printed Drone – Which Cost 200X Less

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Image: Autodesk

Drone manufacturing may have been revolutionized this week.  Design software and services company Autodesk and the US Marine Corps (USMC) have announced a successful project to create new military drones using 3D printing technology.

The new drone, nicknamed “Scout,” is a small fixed-wing surveillance drone.  It can snap apart into four or five parts and be carried in a field pack.  It takes less than 3 minutes to assemble and it weighs very little.

The drone is designed to replace the  currently used small fixed-wing surveillance drones – that cost over $30,000 each to build and over $100,000 to operate.  The high cost limits the widespread use of the drones in the field.  But the cost of the new, 3D-printable drone?

$613 per unit.

The Scout is the result of an innovative project between the Marines and CA-based Autodesk.  It’s the brainchild of 26-year old Marine Rhet McNeal, a graduate of Georgia Tech with a degree in Aerospace Engineering.  McNeal’s proposal for “Adaptable and Affordable” drones was the winner of the Marine’s Logistics Innovation Challenge.

McNeal started work on the drone at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), but applied for – and won – a 4 month residency at Autdesk’s San Francisco Pier 9 Technology Center, a 27,000 square foot workshop outfitted with 3D printers, CNC machines, woodshop, metal shop, and software and hardware experts from every field.  McNeal began his residency in January of 2017 and was able to successfully finish his design plans by the end of his residency.

“Pier 9 is this great community to test ideas, for example, ‘this is the problem I’m having… it’s not really so much a problem, but something I think could be made better,’” said McNeal in an Autodesk interview. “There is no way on earth the Scout would be as good as it is today if not for the great people and equipment I was able to work with on a daily basis at Pier 9.”

McNeal is now back on base in Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina – and the design for the Scout has been passed off to The MITRE Corporation, for testing and certification.  Successful testing could lead to larger scale manufacturing of the Scout.

If the Scout is successfully manufactured on a large scale it may influence drone manufacturing and use not just in the military, but in the entire industry.



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