SFU students apply 3D printing to drone aircraft

Simon Fraser University students have created a drone that can give first responders a bird’s-eye view of emergency situations.

And by 3D printing the device they can make it at a fraction of the cost of conventional drones.

“It is very customizable, very modular,” said Mark Anthony Wijaya, a fourth year SFU student and one of the four co-founders of Avian Robotics, creator of the Avian Drone which will be featured at the university’s Surrey campus Open House March 4. “We have focused the drone on giving first responders information to increase situational awareness.

“It provides an aerial view. If you are walking into an area that is hazardous you can only see what is in front of you. With aerial coverage you can see everything that’s happening around you.”

The fully autonomous drone is controlled using a laptop and it can fly a programmed route or a random route, streaming high quality images.

The drone can be connected via Wi-Fi but Wijaya said it can also work on LTE and radio networks.

“If communications are down, they can still scramble our drone and have livestreaming coverage with instant information right away,” said Wijaya.

Currently the drone, which is slightly smaller across than the width of a standard door, with plans to scale down to a smaller version, has a 20-minute flying time. Wijaya said they are trying to increase that to 30 to 35 minutes and with the smaller version, make it more powerful and able to carry a heavier payload.

The frame of the drone can be easily and cheaply created using 3D printing and powered using off-the-shelf electronics, so Wijaya said the team is able to try out new prototypes.

“For example, for a comparison here in Canada — one drone that is focused on the military is selling for $60,000,” said Wijaya. “In the developmental stage, our cost about $500 to make. The 3D printing process significantly reduces the price.

“Now with 3D printing we can easily prototype and make something quickly at a very affordable rate.”

The Avian has attracted the attention of SFU’s security department.

“This is pretty cutting edge technology for the security industry, and it’s an idea we’ve been contemplating for some time,” said SFU’s director of security Steve MacLean, now an adviser for the group. “These students are active and enthusiastic across their disciplines, and a good fit.”

Wijaya said the Avian drone is still in the developmental stage.

“We want to make it more polished before we put it out to security firms,” he said.

gshaw@vancouversun.comvancouversun.com/digitallife

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