I’ve written about 3D printing drones before, specifically a consumer model and a DOD model, now the Royal Navy across the pond is getting into the act. The Royal Navy working with the University of Southampton has successfully launched a 3D printed drone from a small patrol ship, the HMS Mersey. I like the first article referenced below because it highlights how transformative 3D printing is for limited space environment, such as a boat.
Before the first warship ever set sail, its crew was faced with a serious constraint: limited space. Through centuries, navies have improved on that front, with dense foods, hammocks or bunkbeds layered tight, and with careful planning of what precisely is needed, plus a fleet of logistical resupply ships to fetch spare parts as needed. On that last front, the future offers a bold possibility: 3D printing what’s needed, storing only the raw material for the printer instead of a highly specialized selection of one-use parts.
What might a navy of tomorrow want to print? Drones, for example. In 2011, the University of Southampton successfully 3D printed a drone, the lightweight SULSA. Recently they then launched that drone from the deck of the HMS Mersey, a small patrol ship, and it successfully flew the approximately 1500 feet to shore.
You can watch the videos here:
The University of Southampton provided some details on the 3D printed drone:
A 3D printed aircraft has successfully launched off the front of a Royal Navy warship and landed safely on a Dorset beach.
HMS Mersey provided the perfect platform for the University of Southampton to test out their SULSA unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
Weighing 3kg and measuring 1.5m the airframe was created on a 3D printer using laser sintered nylon and catapulted off HMS Mersey into the Wyke Regis Training Facility in Weymouth, before landing on Chesil Beach.
The flight, which covered roughly 500 metres, lasted less than few minutes but demonstrated the potential use of small lightweight UAVs, which can be easily launched at sea, in a maritime environment. The aircraft carried a small video camera to record its flight and Southampton researchers monitored the flight from their UAV control van with its on-board video-cameras.