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3D Printing Drones: Q&A with Designer

FATHOM sat down with Sherif-George Manganas, creator of the drone featured in the third round of the 2015 Make the Unmakeable Challenge, to explore his development as a designer, experiences with 3D printing, and perspective on the futures of drone and additive manufacturing technologies.

Manganas, a Los Angeles-based designer and founder of drone company Horus, sees limitless possibilities for customization and development in the combining of drone design conceptualization with 3D printing manufacturing. Manganas points to the democratization of production as potentially explosive for global creativity.

“[The 3D printer] is the printing press of the material world and as such has the power to connect and engage the global populous around ideas.”

In addition to featuring Horus during FATHOM’s inaugural 3D printing challenge, FATHOM brought Horus along to its booth at the 2015 InterDrone Event in Las Vegas earlier this month. Check out Manganas’ Instagram post during the show and others under #interdrone!

FATHOM is proud to feature your creation in the 2015 M.T.U.C.—tell us about your professional background and why you consider yourself an “unconventional designer.”

Manganas: I graduated from Art Center College of Design, which provided me with an excellent foundation, and prepared me to be a problem solver. Often ‘design’ is thought of to be profession of stylists, however it’s real purpose is to offer solutions to a range of problems. As such, I have groomed myself to offer the range of skills typically done by a team. As a single designer, I can research, forecast, conceptualize and prototype; a far greater range than is necessary for most jobs, but it allows me to oversee the development of project from start to finish. Early on in my career my focus was purely set on the automotive industry, but it’s slow pace and timid progress left me feeling unchallenged. Since I’ve turned my gaze towards emergent technologies and ideas, bringing the unexpected and unconventional to life.

You have imagined, designed, and produced the open-source drone named Horus—what was the inspiration for this drone and what is the importance of sharing your creation with the community?

Manganas: Three years ago I rediscovered my first love, flight, in the form of a quadcopter. Since it has been a mad-dash to consume all the knowledge available and build as many airframes as I could afford. To date the number is well over 40 airframes, many of which have since been disassembled and reused. Up to this point, I was just having fun, but things suddenly changed when I put my first first-person-view camera and video-transmitter on board. It literally changed the way that I saw the world and had a profound impact on me. Since that moment, I have been convinced of the importance of drones to the world and the limitless possibilities they hold. Once I had created a design I thoroughly enjoyed flying, it became a matter of getting the airframe in to people’s hands. Joy is best shared with others right? So I created a version which can be 3D printed so that anyone with a printer can not only engage in the joy of flight, but experience the unique flying characteristics of this airframe.

The Horus design made available on GrabCAD for the contest is a 3D printable version with more than 600 downloads since its upload in July—what is your experience with 3D printing and how is this quadcopter an example of what can be achieved using additive technologies?

Manganas: Art Center was the first place I was ever exposed to 3D printing. If I’m honest, it was a rough start. I paid too much for some elements on a car design done in FDM and had some starch printed wheels crumble on me. However, the technology and capabilities have since evolved and become so useful, I can’t imagine doing a project where it isn’t a key component in the development process. About a year ago I purchased an Ultimaker2 and have been running almost 24/7 since it’s first setup. Even having an at-home system is a learning process, but once you master it, the things you can create, the innovative approaches you can take towards construction; it simply blows the mind. I have been able to design many things which could never be manufactured using typical injection-molding techniques, integrating function, style, and strength in such a way that surprised me. Beyond these abilities I am of the perspective that 3D printing’s biggest advantage is massively distributed manufacturing. This version of the Horus Kestrel doesn’t take much advantage of the 3D printer’s ability to create complicated forms, but rather the 3D printer’s ability to distribute a design far and wide. It is the printing press of the material world and as such has the power to connect and engage the global populous around ideas. This, for me, was what I wanted to achieve in my first 3D printable airframe.

FATHOM’s Make The Unmakeable Challenge asked participants to design custom accessories for Horus or drones in general—which accessory would you create and why? What accessories do you believe will be most necessary for drones in the near future?

Manganas: I’ve been watching the contest and have seen some very smart thinking in the submissions. For me, I’ve had some wacky ideas. One of my early ideas was to develop an accessory which could hold a spray-can and trigger it via servo. On the drone would be an arduino which communicates with the flight controller and positional sensors to allow the drone to remotely ‘tag’ a location. As to why would I think of this? I’ve always had an irreverent side to me and the idea of using a drone as a 2-axis tagger excited me. The other side of me is more humanitarian focused so I’ve been thinking about how drones could participate in cleaning the ambient air. The idea of swarms of ionic-breeze like panels grabbing soot and pollution from the air seems feasible enough, but then it’s still an idea. The third and last idea I had is the most practical. On either the underside or topside of a drone would be a sensor array able to sample the air for various gasses, air and noise pollution as well as a flame detector. Once launched, the drone would do a simple sweep of the neighborhood gathering the data and creating knowledge-base, which could be shared, of that area’s state. If enough people banded together, you could get a detailed picture as to the rates of pollution and air quality needs of different parts of a city. Lots of fun stuff.

Do you have any advice for drone designers?

Manganas: If I had any advice for designers, it would be to expand your minds. Drones are such an early technology, that they can really be used for more than agriculture, photography, and industrial uses. And drones combined with the limitless nature of 3D printing technology means that the basic isn’t enough anymore, we all can push further and harder than ever before.

Drones have experienced a meteoric rise in awareness and popularity in the last few years—are there significant changes to the industry that you see on the horizons?

Manganas: Drones as a term covers a ton of ground. It typically has been a word only applied to a vehicle which employs autonomy and long-range control systems, however it has been absorbed in to the modern parlance and now includes quadcopters. In the future we will have shipping airships the size of the Goodyear blimp which will be ‘Drones,’ down to your micro-quadcopter which costs $20 from Amazon. You will see a few outlets take hold in the industry, Agriculture, Film Production, Industrial, Shipping, Consumer and Racing. If you look at the evolution of the Aerospace and Automotive industries it was the same.

So in the future you will see these segments entrench themselves as the primary users of drones. What will really change the game is better flight control algorithms, which we are seeing from Universities in the USA and abroad, more sophisticated interaction and ease of use (think Augmented Reality), and most importantly – intelligent legislation. Right now it’s hard to say the industry will go in one direction or another permanently as these three factors can really stagnate progress if any one is lost. The key, as I see it, is not only to keep a weather eye on the horizon, but to put your own skin in the game and define where it is going by doing something about it yourself. If you have something your passionate about, then contribute. The key to growing a healthy industry will be the positive contributions made by people just like your contest participants and others with vision.

Thank you for this opportunity, your interest in my work, and to all the contestants who have participated in this, the latest FATHOM, SolidProfessor, GrabCAD Challenge. Your downloads, words of support, and entries have been very meaningful and so I thank you.

PS—The next version of Horus is available for preorder. Interested? Click through to learn more.

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