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Ultra-light 3D printed titanium firefighting drone to aid in bushfires

Engineering students from Melbourne University have developed a 3D printed firefighting drone, able to resist high temperates and fly for up to 45 minutes. The UAV has been designed to extinguish bushfires.

It’s no secret that Christmas 2015 is shaping up to be the Christmas of drones. With over 400,000 of the flying devices expected to be bought over the holiday season, it will be a miracle if we can see the Boxing Day sky beyond a whirring mass of RC aircrafts circling above our rooftops. Recreational use of drones has clearly skyrocketed in recent times, but unmanned aerial vehicles are also being used for a variety of practical purposes. Amazon’s Prime Air delivery drones, currently under development, are expected to change postal services forever, whilst drones are also being used for aerial imagery, traffic management, reaching high places and much more. The latest task assigned to the flying devices,fighting bushfires, could be one of the most significant.

A team of young engineering students from Melbourne University have built an extremely lightweight, 3D printed drone to be used by the Victorian Metropolitan and Country Fire Brigades (MCFB). The 3D printed UAV had to comply with a strict set of requirements and possess certain important attributes, all of which have been successfully implemented. These attributes included a strong resistance to high temperatures, a crash-resistant body, a long battery life and the ability to send thermal images to ground in real time.

To improve battery life and flight time, the students sought to reduce the drone’s drag and improve its aerodynamics. Airfoil shaped arms and other custom designed aerodynamic parts each contributed to this improvement, but were not easy to produce. Rather than use carbon fibre, the team opted for titanium because of its strength, lightness and resistance to high temperatures. The complex geometric designs were then taken to the CSIRO Lab 22 Innovation Centre to be 3D printed.

With the help of experimental scientist Daren Fraser, the students were able to optimize their design for 3D printing. The airfoil shaped arms were printed in one day, with the rest of the 3D printed parts all completed the following day. Before being integrated into the drone, each 3D printed component was blasted with titanium alloy powder to remove any loose plaque.

The clever 3D printed design has been a great success, with the airfoil shaped arms helping to reduce drag by 60% and increase flight time to around 45 minutes, double that of the previous design.

Earlier this week, a controversial, 3D printed, flamethrower-toting drone received a lot of attention: some of it good, much of it bad. As luck would have it, these talented students from Melbourne University have serendipitously administered the perfect antidote to that controversial design.

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