Things are looking up for 3D printing endeavors. Up in the sky, even. Researchers at the University of Southampton have successfully test flown the world’s first 3D-printed UAV. The plane is called the SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) and has a 6.5-foot wingspan and a nearly-100 mph top speed. It’s powered by an electric motor, the only part not rendered through 3D printing.
In addition to the standard benefits of rapid development and relatively inexpensive production owing to minimal manufacturing waste, the plane takes advantage of geodesic airframe structure, which allows for a very light and strong design, although the complexity causes it to be rarely used when normal manufacturing methods are involved. It becomes much easier when the framework can simply be built up layer-by-layer.
This may be just the first of many such research vehicles from the university, as it is launching a new Master’s degree in UAV design course of study.