Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are becoming a big business in the United States with more than 1 million units sold in 2015, and not just for personal recreational use either. While the small, RC quadcopter drones are excellent for slow and short uses, for many surveying or surveillance applications, fixed-wing models are more preferable. Not only are they capable of flying faster and higher, but they make significantly less noise and aren’t as difficult to control. Typically fixed-wing drones are prohibitively expensive for most smaller businesses or individuals to own, usually costing tens of thousands of dollars. However, as technology and the miniaturization of electronics and batteries improve, prices are starting to rapidly drop.
Unmanned aircraft systems research and manufacturing company O’Qualia announced their Captor UAS 3D printed fixed-wing drone last Spring, and this week they are finally bringing it to market. The 3D printed drone is smaller and lighter than other models and is an entirely modular design that can be upgraded, used with multiple sensor or camera packages, or have the batteries easily swapped. That means the same drone can be used to perform multiple tasks, and can easily keep the internal technology current without needing to buy an entirely new drone.The Captor UAS is surprisingly versatile, and really opens up the market for unmanned drones to the average consumer.
“Captor is the platform to build a high level of familiarity with drones and at the same time it evolves as one’s demands grow. Just as various parts can be rotated and added to a Dremel to expand on its functionality and usage, Captor empowers each user to dictate how far or fast the product can be diversified to address different needs as they happen. It will be phenomenal to imagine what our end users can do or add to the plate, and we have already progressed this far based on these insights and will continue to evolve,” explained O’Qualia Head of Product Innovation Elias Moseer.
The final production model of the Captor UAS has some very key differences than the prototype design that was debuted to the public in May 2015. O’Qualia spent their development time conducting a considerable amount of market research by having small business owners, government institutions and communities of UAS enthusiasts test and evaluate the design. They asked them to anticipate potential use-case scenarios and help identify any challenges or problems that their aerial imaging solution may encounter with regular use.
The body is 3D printed on a large-scale commercial-grade FDM 3D printer from ABS and then wrapped in a carbon-reinforced skin that supports the frame and enables it to withstand the stresses of regular flight. The Captor XV has a two meter wingspan and was designed to be shipped in four modular parts that can be easily snapped together. One of the benefits of this design is in the case of damage, owners can either order a replacement part instead of the entire drone, or 3D print the replacement part themselves with the STL files provided with their purchase. According to O’Qualia, their 3D printing rates will be considerably lower than a typical 3D printing service provider.
The segmentation of the Captor XV design also allows for the quick assembly or disassembly of the drone out in the field. Each of the components have a durable click mechanism, so the parts literally snap together and will stay put during flight time. The design also enables sensor or camera packages to easily be swapped out and replaced with different components, allowing for the ability to quickly and easily use the drone to perform multiple jobs. Additionally, batteries can easily be changed in the field for extended flight range and a larger useage envelope.
“With aerial imaging sensors becoming smaller and more advanced every day, one should not be tied to a particular sensor, but should be able to experiment and exchange sensors easily without needing to overhaul complete systems or be sensor integrator experts,” Moseer continued.
The Captor UAS has a wingspan of 800 mm (31.5 inches) and is capable of carrying an additional payload as heavy as 450g (1 pound), well above standard payloads available in this class. It has a maximum flight time of 50 minutes, and is capable of cruising at 65 km/h. It has a radio range of 14 km (2.5 miles) and a maximum flight coverage of 45 square km (5.4 square miles). O’Qualia is now offering the Captor UAS for pre-orders at a price of $2,750 for a very limited time. Standard pricing ranges will vary from $5,000 to as high as $14,000 depending on the configuration of the drone. You can learn more about the Captor UAS here.
Are you a 3D Drone Enthusiast? Discuss this technology further in the 3D Printed Captor UAS forum over at 3DPB.com.