John Robb has a great post which riffs on the Harvard work we wrote about last year on "pop-up fabrication" of micro flyers (shown in the video above).

The FAA currently estimates that there will be 30,000 drones licensed to operate in US skies by 2020.  It's a misleading estimate.  

Why?  

It only counts large, professional drones (and even that estimate is low).  It doesn't count all of the small/micro drones operating below ~400ft and at slower airspeeds.   How many micro-drones will there be by 2020?

Tens of millions (tens of billions if there is warfare or repression driving it  -- and given the problems we are facing, there will be) and they will look something like this (depicted:  The Mobee):

Mobee

How do we get to that number?

Simple.  You print them by the sheet.

M-1

Here's the latest step in that development.  The microrobotics team at Harvard discovered a new manufacturing process that allowed them to go from

  • assembling drones by hand a month ago with an 85% error rate to 
  • manufacturing them by the sheet with nearly zero defects/failures in assembly.

Think about that for a second.

Modern tools for rapid prototyping are so precise (< 5 microns of error across the entire sheet), cheap (that a small drone lab can access them), and fast (design it on the computer lead straight to manufacturing) that nearly everyone can do this (or will be soon).  

Some more detail

One of the manufacturing breakthroughs was the use of  folding techniques (ala origami and children's pop up books) and hinges to cleanly assemble a 3D shape from a 2D sheet.  Very slick.  

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Comment by John Church on February 16, 2012 at 10:16pm

Fantastic! Things are going to get so crazy so fast...

Comment by bGatti on February 16, 2012 at 11:23pm

Yeah, that is wicked crazy!

Comment by Rui Manuel Cravo Marques on February 17, 2012 at 4:43am

Magnificent and scary at the same time, considering the possible applications for surveillance.

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