3-D Printed Drones Could Fight Drug Trafficking At Sea

2SEAS UAV Project

University of Southampton

The new 2SEAS drone is fast enough to chase a smuggler’s speed boat.

At first glance, it looks like someone forgot to put the cockpit on a plane. Twin engines give the 2Seas Project unmanned aerial vehicle speed and power, but between them, where a normal airplane would put a pilot, there is instead just a camera, attached beneath the wing and always facing forward. This drone, made mostly of 3-D printed parts, could as soon as 2015 use that camera to hunt drug traffickers in Europe’s North Sea.

2SEAS is the younger cousin of SULSA, the first 3-D printed drone, which premiered in 2011. Both drones were made in the United Kingdom by University of Southampton researchers. With a lattice-like, geodesic-reinforced frames, the aircraft are both strong and light.

There are two main differences between the 3-D printed aircraft. The SULSA is entirely 3-D printed, with the exception of its electric engine. This is possible at its small size. 2SEAS, by contrast, has a wingspan more than twice that of the SULSA, which meant the wings and tail were too big to be printed. Instead, they were constructed out of carbon fiber. 2SEAS’s main body, the part that houses fuel, surveillance equipment, and engine mountings, is 3-D printed. The other major difference is power-the SULSA uses a single electric engine to power its one propeller, while the 2SEAS has a gasoline engine.

SULSA can fly for 40 minutes on electric power. 2SEAS, with its larger wingspan, twin propellers, and gasoline engine, has a flight time of six hours, cruises at 55 mph (just fast enough to follow a smuggler’s speed boat), and can carry more sensors than the SULSA.

The 2SEAS drone is still undergoing tests, specifically related to its surveillance equipment. Should it complete those tests, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands are all interested in adopting drones to patrol both the English Channel and the North Sea, or the two seas between them.

Watch it fly below:

[New Scientist]


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