Once upon a time, the best thing you could get printed in 24 hours was a roll of film. Thanks to 3D printing, those dark ages are now well and gone. At the University of Sheffield in the U.K., there's even a project underway that could allow you to someday print out your own drone in a single day.
The idea behind the program is to give researchers in remote areas access to drones. These printable drones would be capable of making deliveries, doing reconnaissance or performing search missions. That you could print out drones on demand would also mean that losing one in a storm or to a forest fire while it's searching for survivors wouldn't be the end of the world. Just print up a new one.
The project's current prototype drone, which has already completed tests as a glider, was printed out of thermoplastic. It has a wingspan of nearly five feet and weighs only two kilograms, but the University of Sheffield is still looking into printing stronger versions of it out of materials like nylon. Blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion systems are also being added to the design.
That might mean needing a few parts that you can't exactly print out of plastic, but it would certainly expand a 3D printed drone's capabilities well past the glider stage and into the realm of completing the diverse missions the University of Sheffield wants to give those far-flung scientists. Once the designs are finalized, there's also a chance that you'll be able to print up a drone of your own on demand with these same schematics. It'll be a brave new world if that comes to pass — one where everyone who wants one can have an eye in the sky or a delivery drone. We wonder just what humanity might do with that ability.