Our multi-million dollar fleets of Predators and Reaper drones are quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule. As UAV technology continues its breakneck advance, the cost of producing even high-performance ISR drones is plummeting. This new UAV, for example, is so inexpensive and quick to create that it's practically disposable.
Dubbed the Razor by its creators at the University of Virginia, this 1.8 pound, 4-foot-wide flying wing is powered by a single prop and controlled with nothing more than an Android tablet—which communicates with an onboard 4G Nexus 5 "brain"—from up to a mile. It can also plot its own autonomous course using GPS.
The current iteration is capable of hoisting another 1.5 pounds worth of surveillance gear for up to 45 minutes and airspeeds reaching 40 mph. Earlier prototypes could notch 120 mph but those sorts of speeds drained its power reserves too quickly—even with the drone's ability to hot-swap fresh power packs.
The DoD-funded project has been in development for three years and is currently testing its third prototype: a 9-piece flyer constructed from interlocking ABS plastic components. Producing all nine pieces takes 31 hours on a commercial 3D printer at a total cost of $800—throw in the tablet and other support gear and you're up to $2500, though that's still way cheaper than what you could build them for conventionally.
They're so inexpensive, in fact, that the idea is to simply print each one out as the situation dictates. Minor design tweaks can modify the vehicle's handling, speed, and size and a new unit created in just over a day. And if you crash one into a tree or Somali warlords shoot it down, who cares? You'll have a new one sooner than Amazon could Prime ship it to you. [UVA via Wired]