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airbus groupI admit that I laughed when I first heard, a couple of years ago, that drones were expected to soon become commonplace. I laughed and was a little bit creeped out, as I typically associated drones with top secret military applications and slightly shady government operations. Now, of course, drones are everywhere, and while I’m amazed at how quickly they’ve arrived in the mainstream, I’ve become a big fan of them. The little flying robots have proven themselves to be extremely useful for individuals, corporations and government agencies alike: we’ve seen them used for everything from art to package delivery to firefighting. Another thing about drones is that you don’t necessarily need to be a professional engineer to design or build one. You don’t need thousands of dollars, either – 3D printing in particular has proven itself to be an extremely effective and inexpensive method for crafting working drones.

Local Motors LogoLately, major organizations have been taking notice of the ability of individuals to create ingenious technology, and are more frequently reaching out to the public for help in designing the next groundbreaking device. When NASA starts utilizing crowdsourcing, you know that there are some major changes happening in the way new technology is developed. Now Airbus Group and Local Motors have teamed up to issue a design challenge to the public: help create a drone that will enable the delivery of urgent medical and other emergency supplies to remote, hard-to-reach areas.

AirbusCargoDroneChallenge-Alternate-1200

We’ve covered both of these companies quite frequently, as they’ve been consistently at the forefront of new manufacturing technologies, in particular 3D printing: Local Motors with their 3D printed cars, and Airbus with their 3D printed aircraft components. Now they’re setting their focus on drones with the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge. It’s a “co-creation” challenge, in which designers will work closely with Airbus Group and Local Motors to develop their ideas. The Cargo Drone Challenge is just the beginning of what the two companies intend to be a long collaborative process involving “a series of co-creation activities, online competitions, open-source projects and hackathons all focused on designing a next-generation commercial drone solution.”

56f431f6858c0db5204ca67c_Drone_Animation_1 (1)“As Local Motors and Airbus Group progress in this challenge, we expect our co-creation community to deliver the kind of amazing ideas that helped us build the world’s first co-created vehicle and 3D-printed car,” said Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers. “As we harness the power of the crowd, Airbus will have the ability to iterate on commercial drones faster than ever before. This will be a much-needed shot in the arm for civil drone development.”

Entries are being accepted until May 22. From June 5-15 a rigorous voting process will take place among Airbus Group executives, cargo industry experts and community members. Prizes range from a first-place $50,000 award, plus a trip to the Farnborough Airshow in England, to community-selected awards of $10,000, $3,000 and $2,000. A few design guidelines are as follows:

  • Drones must be capable of vertical takeoffs and landings
  • Weight of less than 25 kg
  • Fixed-wing forward flight; minimum of 1 pusher motor
  • Capacity for a 5 kg payload for a minimum of 60 km, or a 3 kg payload for a minimum of 100 km
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A rendering of a possible drone design.

Full requirements can be found here. While the first stage of the co-creation initiative is targeted towards cargo drones, designs should be versatile enough to serve other purposes, such as agricultural monitoring and infrastructure inspection, for example. Later this year will come the second stage of the project, a hackathon to further develop electronics and applications.

“The Challenge initiative is really exciting and we are eager to see how the power of co-creation can accelerate new, innovative thinking around commercial drones,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems within the Airbus Group.

Praxis Aerospace Concepts International Inc. will also be assisting Airbus and Local Motors with the challenge. You can learn more about the competition here, and check out the video below. Discuss in the Drone Challenge forum over at 3DPB.com.

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