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3D Printing Used to Optomize Dragon Eye Unmanned Aerial Systems for Volcano Sampling Mission
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3D Printing Used to Optomize Dragon Eye Unmanned Aerial Systems for Volcano Sampling Mission

The FrankenEye project recently completed proof-of-concept demonstrations to validate a novel use of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, to rapidly optimize Dragon Eye Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) donated to the Center for science missions. The project demonstrated a reduction in development time, of an order of magnitude of months to days, by taking two paper designs for the small UAS aircraft ‘Alicanto’ and ‘Chimera’ through airworthiness reviews and autonomous flight testing in less than two months. The airworthiness reviews were conducted by the NASA Ames Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board (AFSRB). Nine successful flights took place at Crows Landing in Stanislaus County.

Two technical exchange meetings were held at NASA Ames to discuss new partnerships and future funding opportunities. A government-only session was held on November 10, 2014, to establish a common technical roadmap for developing small UAS. Participants included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Geological Survey, US Coast Guard, Naval Warfare Surface Center, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire). An industry and academia session was held on December 11, 2014, to discuss common enabling technologies for small UAS. Participants included Aurora Flight Sciences, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Greg Stevenson Engineering (GSE) Inc., UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley.

Further technical discussions have been had with the following parties who have expressed interest in specific applications of the technology: Aerovironment, Boeing Military, Google Oceans, NAVal AIR Systems Command (NAVAIR), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Office of the Navy (OPNAV). A news article was published in the monthly NPS Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research (CRUSER) newsletter in September 2014. Subsequently, the FrankenEye project received an invitation to participate in an upcoming NPS Joint Interagency Field Experimentation Program to be held at Alameda Island, California, in February 2015. The level of participation is yet to be determined.

The success of the project establishes new competencies for the Center in small UAS development that includes new processes for modular design reuse, a Common Avionics Architecture (CAA), and rapid manufacturing methods using the Ames SpaceShop. A provisional patent recommendation was made by the Technology Transfer Office for the Internet Protocol (IP) disclosure, “Use of Additive Manufacturing to Rapidly Scale Performance of a Modular Air Vehicle.” The project Principal Investigator was also honored with the NASA Early Career Researcher Award and NASA Early Career Achievement Medal.

BACKGROUND: Many unmanned aircraft missions involve taking measurements in dangerous regions or in phenomenon where conditions have prevented manned aircraft operation. For NASA Ames Research Center, Earth Science missions often require modification to a stock aircraft to accommodate certain critical payloads and sensors. The FrankenEye concept explores a unique opportunity to exploit smaller, expendable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to build modular, scalable UAS with improved performance using 3D printing and rapid manufacturing.

TEAM: Robert Dahlgren (SG/CSUMB), Matthew Fladeland (SG), Donald Herlth (SG), Corey Ippolito, Richard Kolyer (SG), Kevin Reynolds (PI), Mark Sumich (JO), and Zion Young (RE)

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Center of Innovation Fund (CIF) Seedling 2014, Cost-sharing support: Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) and the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD)

Contact: Kevin Reynolds

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