The world’s fastest drone debuted at the Dubai Airshow this month, reports Live Science, and it isn’t what you’d expect.
At about 33 pounds, with a 9 ft. wingspan, the drone is far larger than a racing drone, looks nothing like a quadcopter, and is not quite like a military or a commercial delivery drone. But then again, it wasn’t built like any of those things. The Aurora drone, developed by Aurora Flight Sciences and Stratasys, was about 80% manufactured by 3D printing.
Breaking all known speed records to date, the drone flies at speeds over 150 mph. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest, fastest and most complex 3D-printed UAV ever produced,” Dan Campbell, aerospace research engineer at Aurora Flight Sciences, said in a statement.
Using the common 3D method of extruding a plastic material layer by layer onto a surface, most of the drone is composed of several hollow parts and was printed in ultem, a resilient (and flame-resistant) thermoplastic resin. Other parts of the aircraft were made using alternative 3D printing technologies.
Sratasys says that using 3D printing cut production time of the drone in half. “Stratasys technology enabled a design-and-build cycle twice as fast as conventional processes,” says a company statement. “Avoiding the constraints normally associated with traditional manufacturing and low-volume production enables the cost-effective creation of mission-specific vehicles like this UAV. Strong, lightweight FDM structures reduce operating costs and optimize material use to cut acquisition costs and waste.”
As the drone market heats up this year, manufacturers face stiff competition as funding flows to the promising new industry. Fast 3D printing and a streamlined manufacturing cycle could be a competitive edge. It is almost certain, however, that FAA will object to drones flown at 150 mph in the US.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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