As 3D printing has become more popular among the general population, it has also received more notice from public and private organisations. With 3D printers becoming more popular in schools, libraries, and health industries, the technology has greatly, and beneficially, influenced the way society learns, plays, and heals.
Recently, it has become evident that 3D printing technology may also begin to influence how society arms, defends and protects.
Project Nautilus 100
As part of Project Nautilus 100, the Royal Navy held a competition asking companies and other engineers to design futuristic submarine concepts that might predict the way underwater warfare will look in 50 years. The winning concepts resemble marine life forms and will make extensive use of 3D printed parts.
Project Nautilus 100 was named to honour the 100th anniversary of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine. Just as the USS Nautilus was the first of its kind, the new underwater warfare designs workshopped by UK Nest and the Royal Navy would be the first of their kind, as well.
Twenty participants, including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, the MOD, QinetiQ, Rolls Royce, and other lead engineers, competed in the Nautilus 100 challenge to produce innovative naval crafts for the project.
The winning designs include a ship shaped like a manta ray, eel-like vessels, and fish-shaped torpedoes. All of the designs take advantage of new technologies that make submarines more effective, and cheaper and easier to construct.
The Mothership And Other Vessels
The Nautilus 100 mothership, with a whale-shark styled mouth and manta ray body, would act as a command and control hub. The entire hull would be 3D printed out of a combination of acrylic materials that are both light and strong and can withstand the pressure at extreme depths in the ocean. Electronic graphene scales would allow the submarine to morph into a shape more resembling a manta ray.
Other components and parts of the Nautilus 100 would feature additive tech, such as unmanned eel-like vessels armed with weapons. These vessels are also being workshopped to have individual sensor pods that use lasers to create a communications network, allowing them to communicate with each other.
Researchers are also considering the idea of 3D printed micro-drones that will work as reconnaissance systems to either gather data or escort other vehicles. When secrecy is required, the design will allow them to dissolve in salt water.
3D printing is important for the researchers, developers, and engineers because it allows them to think innovatively about shapes not previously possible. They can also consider materials that are unconventional.
What Nautilus 100 Might Mean For 3D Printing
So far, none of the concepts are functional, and some critics believe they will never be workable, but some of the largest companies and most creative minds are working towards them. As 3D printing technologies continue to develop and permeate more sectors of society, the designs from the Nautilus 100 challenge may be more achievable than sceptics think.
These designs may also be necessary. Part of the Royal Navy’s inspiration for the Nautilus 100 project was the understanding that the Earth’s surface is mostly covered by water, a considerable untapped resource that, in the future, nations will likely compete for and under.
If this prediction should become true, then the Royal Navy’s future role will look different from its current one. It makes sense, then, that the underwater craft it uses are markedly different and reflect their new role as well.
Currently, 3D printing is popular in the health, engineering, and education fields, as well as individual hobbyists. The Nautilus 100 project is evidence that 3D printing will likely continue its influence in all areas of society and will result in a range of technologies—from small items people use every day to large underwater crafts that defend nations.
Additionally, as organisations imagine new uses for 3D printers, the technology itself will likely evolve and become even more prolific and beneficial to society.