Now, engineers at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University have figured out how to 3D-print a drone with the electronics it needs to fly already inside.
Philip Keane, a PhD student who works at the University's Centre for 3D Printing, has designed a quadcopter out of aerospace-grade materials that can almost fly out of the 3D printer that it's made in.
Surviving The Heat
“One of the toughest challenges was to find electronic components that could theoretically survive the high temperature printing process", Keane. "We had to add some heat-proofing modifications to the components to ensure they could last.”
His design takes about 14 hours to print, pausing three times in that process for electronic components to be placed within the chassis. At the end, only the motors and the propellers need to be added before the drone can fly.
Strong and Rugged
The material that Keane used to print the drone with is called - a high-strength, lightweight thermoplastic that's certified for use in commercial aircraft. As a result, Keane says, the drone is strong and extremely rugged - capable of lifting over 60kg of weight.
Now the production process has been defined, Keane's next goal is reducing the weight of the drone itself, making it more durable and improving its flight dynamics.