AMS Spring 2023

ALTA Reshapes Low-Altitude Imaging & Prototyping with 3D Printed Tactical SmartBalloons


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UntitledAlthough we humans are perched at the top of the food chain and have greater ability to reason and innovate than any other species on the planet, often our bipedal existence becomes limiting in terms of our surroundings; thus, we spend plenty of time and energy finding ways to soar through the skies too, always seeking a larger view of the planet. And once you’ve had an aerial view, it can become addicting. It’s different, and it’s freeing. There’s nothing like being able to see everything at once, from your home and business, to the roadways and waterways–with the fascination growing the lower and lower you go, making out finer details of your world.

Even without the natural ability to fly, we’ve certainly managed to create plenty of air traffic, and an enormous industry and economy revolving around it. From planes to drones to the kid next door with a remote control helicopter, there’s a lot going on in the air technologically with humans at the controls, and 3D printed components are becoming a part of the quotient more and more due to their light weight, quality, affordability, and self-sustainability in manufacturing for individuals as well as businesses of all sizes.

wNMcbGreaGU4D2cUzOvggQVEu72b93Yd1iobTZa0UHI-1024x680Companies like ALTA Tactical, a division of ALTA Systems, are reshaping the way low-altitude imaging is performed–and 3D printing is reshaping their production process for technology like their Tactical SmartBalloons, used for aerial monitoring of events, to prepare for tactical and disaster response, traffic analysis, and more. With their Stratasys uPrint SE Plus, they have a great deal more latitude in dealing with altitude–and imaging.

The uPrint allows the team flexibility in making and testing new designs, as well as producing low-volume end-use parts onsite. Founded by aerial imaging expert John Ciampa, ALTA has been the first in numerous technologies from the creation of pictometry imagery to their latest SmartBalloon technology which last year was the first ever first low-altitude imagery vehicle to monitor a major sporting event as FSU hosted the University of Miami in NCAA Division 1 Men’s Football. They were able to capture imagery and details like never before, with a longer flight time than drones and without the noise and FAA restrictions that accompany drone technology.

ALTA is continually working to refine their technology–and with 3D printing they can make prototypes as they wish, quickly and affordably–and the team states that the technology has been very important in helping them to produce a range of prototypes for testing new designs on a daily basis.

“The uPrint has been invaluable for us in prototyping and pilot-run level production. The ability to make three or four iterations of a part in a few hours has sped up our development by months, compared to getting prototypes machined or outsourcing our printing, where we would have to wait days for our parts, make a few changes, then start the whole process over again,” says ALTA engineer Candido Hernandez. ”Now I can just print a part, go to lunch, and by the time everybody is back we can play around with it, make changes, and throw another part into the printer.”

“It’s also been extremely useful for very short production runs of parts, where traditional production methods might be too expensive to justify themselves but we still need parts for a pilot or demo. Our printer fills the gap really nicely with the ability to make 10 or 20 parts in a day or two. I’ve tried this with consumer-level printers and been burned a few times, wasting hours or days on part runs that failed mid-print. Being able to set up a full build plate and forget about it has been a breath of fresh air.”

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Police officers are training in how to use the technology for monitoring.

The technology and systems that ALTA is providing with the SmartBalloon has unlimited potential for assisting us with aerial monitoring. The team has been involved with helping during events like training exercises for hazardous material spills, helping organizations like the Coast Guard prepare for action. They also see this as being helpful for ecological concerns in helping to monitor activity like sea turtle migration along the east coast, using the SmartBalloons to get an aerial view and exact location of nests. Farmers are finding is usual for monitoring water draining, and police officers are definitely able to put the technology to good use as well.

Due to the power of 3D printing and rapid prototyping, everyone involved experiences accelerated progress, and from recreation to emergency response, the ALTA team is able to provide a more expansive and detailed scope of activities happening on the ground.  Discuss this article in the 3D Printed SmartBalloon forum on


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