U.K. Royal Navy puts 3D-printed drone through its paces in the Antarctic

On the whole, drones have gotten a lot tougher since they first arrived on the market. However, perhaps no consumer-facing drone can quite match up to the one currently being tested by the British Royal Navy: a 3D-printed UAV, able to land belly-first on the water like a seaplane, which was recently put through its paces in the freezing conditions of the Antarctic.

“The Royal Navy took the UAV to the Antarctic so as to be able to test it in a harsh environment,” Richard McKenzie, marketing manager for the drone’s manufacturer 3T RPD, told Digital Trends. “If you’re working in the military, you want your kit to be able to work in extreme temperatures. They wanted to test the UAV to see whether it would be able to fly efficiently in a hostile environment.”

A 3D-printing company that regularly works in the automotive and space industry, 3T RPD first began collaborating with the U.K.’s University of Southampton on its SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) back in 2011. Since then, the resulting drone attracted the attention of the British Royal Navy, which has been taking it globetrotting to test in a variety of situations — including the Antarctic jaunt, onboard the Royal Navy’s Antarctic patrol vessel, HMS Protector.

As McKenzie explained, being able to 3D print a UAV comes with a few key advantages. For one thing, the sintering process involved means that more durable shapes can be manufactured than via traditional means. SULSA is so tough, in fact, that the original 2011 unit is still going strong, despite dips into near-freezing oceans.

It is also much cheaper, with far less cost involved in the tooling. “The cost of this particular unit is around $10,000,” he said. “That sounds like a lot of money for a hobbyist, but if you’re the Royal Navy, that cost is the same as running a Merlin Helicopter for one hour. It means that you can build more of these UAVs for less money, which opens up a lot of new use cases.”

Being the military, of course, getting details about future testing plans isn’t exactly straightforward. However, from the sound of things, SULSA has so far passed all its test runs with flying colors.

Who knows? Maybe it will get called into active service before too long. After all, a trip to the Antarctic is a heckuva boot camp.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

Takeoff Technologies is working to make grocery deliveries fast, accurate, and convenient using A.I.-enabled technology to augment robotic grocery orders that can be completed in minutes.
Gaming

Hey, Sony! If you make a PS2 Classic, it needs these games

158 million PS2 consoles were sold worldwide during its lifecycle, making it the most successful video game console of all time. It was hard, but we narrowed down the PS2's vast library of games. Here are the best PS2 games of all time.
Music

Spotify is the best streaming service, but its competitors aren’t far behind

It can be hard to decide which music streaming service is for you, so we've picked out the individual strengths of the most popular services, aiming to make your decision a little easier.
Mobile

The best smartphone stocking stuffers for a very techy Christmas

If you've got a tech-loving smartphone enthusiast to buy for, we can help you out. Here's a selection of top phone accessories that would make amazing stocking stuffers so you can have a very Merry Christmas.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.