College Kids Casually 3D-Print a Working Military Drone

A few off-the-shelf parts, and you can skip the entire military supply chain.

The drone needs a running toss to get it off the ground. The first few tries were... not smooth. (Screengrab via UVA)

The drone needs a running toss to get it off the ground. The first few tries were… not smooth. (Screengrab via UVA)

When Professor David Sheffler first made a 3D-printed jet engine as a class experiment, one of the students whipped out a cell phone to record the results. That video ended up in the hands of a team at The MITRE Corporation, a research titan with military aviation contracts. When MITRE reached out to Mr. Sheffler, they wanted to know if he could 3D print a whole drone.

Mr. Sheffler and his student at the University of Virginia have announced their completion of The Razor, a 3D-printed drone that looks more like a military stealth fighter than the kind of cute GoPro-laden quadcopter Martha Stewart uses to take photos of her farm. The drone uses an Android phone as a brain, is powered by a tiny jet and is “fully autonomous,” which presumably means that the drone can stay aloft for extended periods of time without a human pilot.

The Razor launches by hand, and watching Mr. Sheffler repeatedly try to launch it looks like a simulation of what the Wright Brothers likely went through — a running start, a moment of flight, and a comic crash:

All it takes to make one of these is a few off-the-shelf parts, a 3D printer and the Android phone, and you can make a drone that flies over 100 miles an hour.

“We can […] also modify it as needed to meet various mission needs.” Mr. Sheffler told the univeristy. “A new configuration of the aircraft can be produced by this method in about a day.”

Ms. Scheffler admits that making dronesthrough the good ol’ fashioned method of injection molding still turns out a more solid drone, but the Razor streamlines the process if you don’t have access to a military-grade factory production and skip — say, on the front lines of a war. But Mr. Sheffler also hopes we’ll find a use for these drones that doesn’t involve our military might.

“As with any technology, there is the potential for good and harm to result,” he said. “Weapons and drones used for killing and spying are dominating the media at this time. There are many more peaceful constructive uses for the technology, the potentials of which are only just being realized.”

College Kids Casually 3D-Print a Working Military Drone