There’s a robotics company we should keep our eyes on called Blue Robotics. Why? The company is making waves in an under-represented sector of the 3D printed drone market: submarine drones. Blue Robotics launched its new direction with a project to create their own thruster for a solar-powered robotic boat they planned to send from Los Angeles to Hawaii. What is a thruster and why are they so important? Thrusters do exactly what they sound like they do: they are motor and propeller unit propulsive devices, used by bother watercraft and aircraft, that guarantee long-duration, low- thrust acceleration. From this, the T100 Thruster was born.
Blue Robotics led a very successful Kickstarter campaign for its new thruster that raised 293% of its goal. (This was about six months after the start-up won ProtoLabs Cool Idea! Award.) The campaign described the thruster as “An efficient, rugged, affordable underwater thruster to propel the future of marine robotics and ocean exploration.” And apparently people were convinced to the tune of $102,685. But this was back in September 2014, and since then, the company has been very successful. It even won Marine Technology Reporter magazine’s “Start-Up of the Year” in the MTR 100.
What makes Blue Robotics T100 Thruster so popular? For one, it was much more affordable than what was available through the official marine robotics industry channels. On the company’s website they explain further that the other available thrusters just weren’t going to work:
“…these thrusters needed maintenance every 50 hours and were designed with outdated technology. As we did more research, we found that many people are building their own marine robots and are having the same problem. Most of them have simply given up or used less-than-ideal solutions, like using brushless motors directly in water that have to be replaced when they corrode. Some people tried to build their own thrusters, but with little success.”
After Rusty Jehangir, an engineer and Blue Robotics’ founder, discovered that most thrusters required servicing after 50 hours of usage, he realized this wasn’t going to work for a boat they wanted to send from LA to Hawaii! He had to think of another option, and he did. Rusty decided to work with Sculpteo to use CAD software to design and then 3D print an inexpensive thruster. He explains:
“The industry of Marine Robotics has stifled innovation by keeping the mechanics and technology expensive. With 3D printing people are able to prototype and final manufacture parts inexpensively and quickly. That’s why we chose Sculpteo… Our thruster does have metal parts, but we were able to prototype for the hydrodynamic shape of the nozzle, and we were able to do it cheaply with Sculpteo.”
This uniquely designed thruster allows water to pass through both the motor and the propeller so the drones can be fully submerged unerwater. It has turned out to be an integral part to the smooth operation of submarine drones.
As the company explained on Facebook:
“We used 3D printing a lot, especially when developing the thruster, and it was absolutely invaluable.”
Right now the company’s on-line store carries two different thrusters, two different brushless motors, ROV, watertight enclosures, electronics, parts, waterproof servos, tools, and even swag. Its store is beginning to look like one-stop-shopping for all of your submarine drone needs, and thanks to Sculpteo’s fast and inexpensive prototyping, Blue Robotics continues to make waves in the marine robotics industry with its unique thrusters and other products. Discuss this story in the Submarine Drone forum on 3DPB.com.