A team of engineering students from Melbourne University have built a 3D printed titanium drone which could aid in dousing bushfires.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was designed to hover over hot places and transmit clear real time thermal images to the ground. The key objectives were also to extend the battery of the drone, reduce the weight and improve its strength to withstand crashes.
Although several drone models are available in the market, a customized UAV is still considerably expensive. Most generic drones are made from carbon fiber and have limited battery lives which give them a flight time of approximately 20-30 minutes. Carbon fiber’s low robustness makes it unsuitable for fire-fighting situations.
The students first envisioned changing the aerodynamics of the drone to reduce drag which might result in lesser battery drain and better flight time. The team used aerodynamic airfoil shaped arms with custom-designed aerodynamic parts.
Traditional materials like carbon fiber cannot be molded to complex geometrical shapes. As a result the students opted for titanium due to its favorable properties like strength, lightness and high temperature resistance.
The team finalized the design for the individual UAV components and decided to use 3D printing to build the components at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO) Lab 22 in Clayton, Victoria. The researchers at Lab 22 aided the students in optimizing the components’ design which resulted in reduced manufacturing costs.
The printing of the airfoil-shaped arms took one day while the rest of the components were completed the following day. The arms were then blasted with titanium alloy powder which removed the loose plaque before its integration onto the drone.
The airfoil-shaped arms reduced drag by as much as 60% and the new aerodynamic shape increased the flight time by 45 minutes – twice more than previous designs. The lightness of the drone also increased its battery life considerably. The biggest advantage of using 3D printing is the ability to reprint any damaged parts. The UAV is robust and durable enough to be used in Victorian Metropolitan and Country Fire Brigades (MCFB).
The five mechanical students and two mechatronic engineers have won the Autodesk CAD prize and a Wade Institute Entrepreneurship Prize for this research.
Image courtesy of CSIRO