According to BAE Systems, 3D printers could be so advanced by 2040 that they would have the ability to create unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during a mission.
Scientists and engineers at BAE Systems anticipate such advances in both 3D printing and drone technologies that in the relatively near future, military aircraft could come equipped with onboard 3D printers to produce various types of drones on-demand. Possessing these capabilities, this would make for a highly versatile task-force with a primary aircraft deployed and then able to manufacture a fleet of smaller, purpose-built vehicles depending on a particular situation.
“You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things. You can manufacture the products and whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers,” said BAE’s Mike Murray.
As Gizmag notes, there have been some notable creations at the intersection of drones and 3D printing throughout recent years, ranging from engineers at the University of Southampton developing the world’s first printed aircraft back in 2011 to a minimalistic UAV that can be printed and launched within a day.
“Of course we don’t know exactly what sorts of aircraft technologies will be used in 2040 with any certainty, but it’s great to be able to show the public some concepts that might be possible through projecting where today’s technology could get to,” explained Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems’ Futurist and Engineering Manager.
Aside from the specialized drone production, the firm has unveiled three other next-gen aircraft technologies, including parts that can heal themselves in minutes, a new type of long range aircraft which divides into a number of smaller aircraft when it reaches its destination, and a directed energy weapon that could engage missiles at the speed of light, destroy them and protect the people below.