The U.S. Army is partnering with the Marine Corps to produce low-cost 3D-printed drones in battlefield conditions that can provide aerial support for units in combat.
The program, announced by the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds last month, involves a merger of materials science, aviation technology, and software development, and is a product of the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment. The AEWE is meant to put “new technologies in the hands of soldiers.”
The program developed out of an academic research program run through Georgia Tech University that sought to develop small, unmanned aircraft systems. As on-demand “additive manufacturing,” also known as “3D printing,” has continued to develop, the projects were merged into one.
Now the goal is to create a “suite of tools” that allows soldiers and Marines to enter their mission parameters and get a “3D printed aviation asset” within 24 hours. Army Research Lab engineer Larry Holmes said the turnaround time has already been perfected to “anywhere from minutes to hours.” He added:
"I think a lot of folks are interested in additive manufacturing because we've seen on sci-fi shows ... just walking up to a user interface and saying, “cheeseburger,” and there's my cheeseburger. I think that as additive manufacturing continues to grow and the technologies continue to evolve that we're going to get to a point eventually where we will be making things in a similar fashion where you will walk up to your user interface and say, “unmanned aerial system,” and it will make it for you."
The Army announcement states researchers plan to “streamline their processes based on feedback” received from the soldiers and Marines to “enable unprecedented situational awareness.”