US Army announces 3-D printing, sUAV project

By Luke Geiver | February 18, 2016

The U.S. Army is exploring methods to make small unmanned aircraft vehicles available on-demand through the use of 3-D printing. Through its annual technology and field testing procedures called Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory will put the concept into action next year at Fort Benning in Georgia.

According to ARL, Eric Spero, an acting team lead in the ARL Vehicle Technology Directorate sold the AEWE selection committee on the idea. “We saw the trajectories of two beneficial technology areas converging in the future,” he said.

If enacted, the infield solution would be made available at the battalion level and below, Spero said, all to support the company, platoon, squad and individual soldier.

A software product would generate a platform design. The computer-aided design would be used in digital manufacturing equipment. Off-the-shelf parts, like wings or motors, would also be added.

Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Lab has helped on the development of both the software and hardware that could be used to unite 3-D printing with sUAVs.

Spero believes the flexibility, availability and low cost of such a system gets people excited about the project coming to fruition.

Mark Valco, director of the Vehicle Technology Directorate, said producing customized designs near mission sights reduces the burden of maintaining inventory at multiple sites. 

“The idea is soldiers load the mission into the design system and overnight the system creates a UAS that will meet those mission parameters. That is completely different than the way we do things now. We’re heading in a new direction, not only in the design of UAVs, but in the design philosophy and the systems that fabricate them,” Valco said.