A group of engineers from the University of Southampton just upped the 3D-printing ante this week by successfully launching a printed UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) off a Royal Navy warship in Dorset, England. Printed entirely using laser-sintered nylon, the six and half pound aircraft has the capability to hit cruising speeds of up to 58 miles per hour, while flying in almost complete silence.
The team, led by professor Andy Keane from Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, has spent the last few years exploring how automated aircrafts can be used instead of more intricate devices. He added, “the key to increased use of UAVs is the simple production of low cost and rugged airframes. We believe our pioneering use of 3D printed nylon has advanced design-thinking in the UAV community world-wide.”
The research team behind the project, called Project Triangle, say they constructed the aircraft by 3D-printing just four major parts. Like those old balsa wood gliders you might’ve had as a kid, the finished craft requires no tools for assembly after it comes off of the printer After outfitting the craft with an automation system and small on-board camera, the team then set aboard the HMS Mersey and launched the craft out over Chesil Beach. From there, they monitored the UAV’s flight from a control van while a small crew navigated the craft to a safe landing on-shore.
With the help of the HMS Mersey’s crew, as well as First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas (a Southampton alum), Project Triangle has spent the last five years perfecting its designs for a 3D-printed UAV. Because the Royal Navy envies the use of remotely piloted aircraft, it’s started working more closely with Project Triangle and, as demonstrated with the recent test flight, assists whenever possible.
“Radical advances in capability often start with small steps,” says Zambellas, “the launch of a 3D-printed aircraft from HMS Mersey is a small glimpse into the innovation and forward thinking that is now embedded in our Navy’s approach.”
If Zambellas considers this 3D-printed UAV a “small glimpse” into the Royal Navy’s approach, we can’t wait to see what Project Triangle cooks up next.