For soldiers in the battle field, every second counts- and a new project will soon let them 3D-print specialized mini-drones on demand.
Using a computer terminal, troops will be able to design an aerial vehicle and manufacture it with an automated process such as laser cutting and 3D printing.
Researchers say the focused drones can be manufactured within 24 hours, with a total turnaround time of less than three days.
The project is being conducted by the US Army Research laboratory and Georgia Technical Institute, which call this approach 'aggregate derivative approach to product design,' or ADAPT, reports Patrick Tucker with Defense One.
'A soldier with a mission need uses a computer terminal to rapidly design a suitable [drone],' says a poster by project chief engineer Zacarhy Fisher.
'That design is then manufactured using automated processes such as laser cutting and 3D printing.'
'The solution is sent back to the soldier and is deployed.'
The group published a paper in July 2016 that discussed a four-step process for 3D printed drones.
Soldiers will have to decide what specifications the drone will need to carry out the mission.
The second would be to decide on what parts will be needed – both standard and customized.
Then they will have to determine if the pieces fit together and finally, concept refinement.
Defense One notes that to make this project a success the researchers will need to 'limit the number of potential build options around one of the four different tasks a soldier might need for a small drone,' Tucker reports.
More than three years ago, Georgia Tech released a separate paper that identified these four tasks: surveillance and defense, reconnaissance for inside buildings, caves and jungles.
And soldiers in these areas will need different equipment and tools depending on the mission.
In the paper, the researches explained their approach as being inspired by Legos.
'The on-demand approach is succinctly explained via an analogy to Lego®,' they wrote in the journal Procedia Computer Science.
'Lego® bricks contain a number of modular parts that can be constructed into different models depending on what outcome is desired. Instructions are provided to help the user build different systems out of the same set of components.'
Before a mission or when an immediate, unforeseen need arises, Soldier input is used to design a mission-specific aerial solution.
The software creates a computer-aided design model of the drone and is built by combining machine and electric parts.
This process will not only allow for on-demand requests, but will be more flexible and cost effective.
Also, new electronic components can be incorporated into the system and easily manufactured, instead of the agency having to chase down what they need.
The project is part of the ARL Science for Maneuver Campaign, which is one of eight campaigns that encompass the laboratory's core competencies. '
We're focused on gaining a deeper understanding of advanced mobility technologies that will bring greater capabilities to our Soldiers,' said Dr. Mark Valco, director of the Vehicle Technology Directorate.
'This project is a good example of our efforts to explore flexible, low-cost capability enhancements.' Flexible design optimization, advances in materials and the speed of 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, will make this vision of the future a reality, Valco said.
'Even though the experiment is still a year away, the team is using this time to speak with other researchers on the best way to deliver a working prototype.
All 50 sponsors of the selected technologies will participate in several coordinating working groups during 2016 to complete pre-experimentation planning and administrative requirements.
Teams will also provide training to the Soldiers involved in the experiment.
AEWE 2017 will take place at Fort Benning, Georgia, between January and Februry.