Chemputer to chemically grow military drones.
3D printing often gets likened to science fiction though if you ask me there’s nothing really that sci-fi about the melted plastic extrusion examples it usually finds itself attached to. However a new concept from aerospace company, BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow genuinely looks like something that’s been plucked straight out of a J.J. Abrams’ movie.
Developed in the UK as part of BAE Systems’ open innovation ethos that encourages sharing technology and ideas with academic institutions and start-ups, the concept imagines a future where small military UAVs can be ‘grown’ in large-scale labs using chemistry in a new machine called, the Chemputer.
Unlike traditional 3D printing, whereby parts are built in layers, the machine gives engineers the ability to build UAVs and some of their electronic structures quickly by controlling the chemistry at molecular level. Building drones in this way could mean that production time takes only a few weeks rather than months or years and they can be built to support specific military operations quickly and effectively. The technology could also be used to manufacture multi-functional parts for large manned aircraft
“The world of military and civil aircraft is constantly evolving and it's been exciting to work with scientists and engineers outside BAE Systems and to consider how some unique British technologies could tackle the military threats of the future,” Professor Nick Colosimo, a BAE Systems Global Engineering Fellow, commented in a recent release.
In a very cool video created by BAE Systems, it describes how future operations may require a new breed of aircraft that can be rapidly designed and manufactured to meet emerging threats or deploy emergency supplies for Special Forces. The video shows a cluster of large vats where multiple drones can be seen ‘growing’ from a liquid state.
Regius Professor Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow, and Founding Scientific Director at Cronin Group PLC who is developing the Chemputer, described the technology as “a very exciting time in the development of chemistry” and explained how the progress in “routes to digitise synthetic and materials chemistry” could, in the future, enable the assembly of complex objects from the bottom up with minimum human assistance.
“Creating small aircraft would be very challenging but I’m confident that creative thinking and convergent digital technologies will eventually lead to the digital programming of complex chemical and material systems,” Professor Cronin commented.
This technology may look like it’s a lifetime away from fruition but engineers are already using advanced technologies to build lighter and more complex UAVs faster than ever before. Earlier this year we reported on how Aurora Flight Sciences had successfully created the world’s largest, fastest and most complex 3D printed drone using Stratasys' 3D printing technology and there are many more examples at desktop level from Markforged to Voxel8 that show how 3D printing is benefiting the manufacture of drones.