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3D-printed drones: The future of warfare?

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 9:46am
Allegra Sparta, Contributor

It’s like learning about the newest celebrity couple. The only difference is that you won’t read about this development in the tabloids. The United States didn’t really need any more incentive to outdo other countries in military technology, but 3D printing is an attractive avenue to further enhance our growing preference for drone warfare. It’ll be a few years before a printer can churn out MQ-9 Reaper Drone parts lickety-split with the press of a button, but progress is underway.

This push comes from a growing unmanned aircraft arms race between countries. It’s not just the US that loves its flying death-bots, so the faster and easier we can produce them, the better.

Ben FitzGerald, the Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security had this to say about a recently released report called “Process Over Platforms: A Paradigm Shift in Acquisition Through Advanced Manufacturing:” 

“It is broken down as follows, instead of creating costly manned aircraft in small amounts, the defense department might be able to build thousands of custom drones with the assistance of 3D printed parts, through the use of automatic assembly lines, which are on at all hours of the day.”

The title of the report is a mouthful, but it basically says that the US military wants to rely more heavily on a strategy of drone warfare, and 3D printing might be the solution to a speedy “army” ready to deploy at the click of a button.

Thankfully, the marriage between drones and 3D printing isn’t all about war. “Amazon Prime Air” catapulted innocuous drones for civilians to the front pages a few months ago. Businesses like Amazon can benefit from a method of drone-production that can quickly replace downed delivery-bots and also increase the fleet.

Read: Amazon’s drone-delivery service is a pipe dream (for now)

The common folk can also print drones. A website titled “DIY Drones” offers instructions on how to print drone parts with consumer 3D printers. A Kickstarter project called Hex is a 3D printed and customizable smartphone-controlled drone for the RC enthusiast in all of us.

These consumer developments are especially noteworthy. They’re like an updated version of Legos, and who doesn’t love to play with those? Kids (and adults!) can flex their aviation muscles with mini drones like these leading to another realm of creativity and hands-on learning about engineering and new technology. I for one, would much rather see a focus on Kickstarter projects like Hex than a military push for more developments in warfare.

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