September 13, 2017


The Marine Corps wants to 3D print cheaper drones : A new prototype scout drone can be printed for less than the cost of the latest iPhone (Kelsey D. Atherton, 9/13/17, Popular Science)

In three minutes, the Scout drone is assembled. One minute more, and it's airborne, tossed by a Marine. The flight is short, maybe 20 minutes at the most, but the information gained is valuable, a real-time video of just who or what, exactly, is behind that building a mile down the road. With the area surveilled, the aptly-named Scout drone flies back, and suffers a rough landing, snapping a wing. No matter. The squad can print another back at company HQ after the mission, and have it ready to go in a couple hours. [...]

[Corporal Rhet] McNeal was one of the people who submitted a proposal to last year's Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge, a program designed to crowdsource ideas about 3D printing and wearable technologies. The "Make Your Corps" challenge asked entrants "With the right tools and instruction, what might a Marine make? Would these solutions improve warfighting capability, either while in garrison or forward deployed?"

For McNeal, the idea was a drone that did most of what the Raven did, but cost a fraction of the cost, and smaller form-factor that fit into flexible packs for transport. To find that idea, McNeal turned to Thingiverse, an online 3D printing commons. There, he found the Nomad design, a simple fixed-wing drone design by Alejandro Garcia. Garcia's Nomad, published under a Creative Commons license, is designed to carry a GoPro camera, a motor, and it's built from modular parts. That modular design means it's easy to reprint damaged components, and simple to collapse and reassemble when needed.

With a modified version of Garcia's design, McNeal was selected as one of the about 20 winners of the logistics challenge. In February, the Marine Corps partnered with Autodesk's Pier 9 residency program, and by the time the residency ended in June, McNeal had a new, 3D printed drone prototype, nicknamed "Scout. The end of the residency meant a prototype in hand and design files ready to send to his fellow Marines for feedback, testing, and refinement.

"The entire system is $615," says McNeal. "If a wing section breaks now instead of being $8000 it's like $8. That works out a lot better for us."

Posted by at September 13, 2017 2:09 PM