Military Firms Want to ‘Grow’ Drones from Chemicals

Better drones though chemistry? BAE Systems and Cronin Group PLC of Glasgow, Scotland are developing a means of growing unmanned aerial vehicles using chemicals. BAE illustration

In myth and literature, old-time wizards and witches would conjure spirits and monsters from the cauldron — toss in the odd eye of newt, leg of frog and whatnot, then stand back and let the hell-broth boil and bubble do its work.

That may be an apt analogy for how future military drones are called forth — er, manufactured.

Enter the Chemputer. According to BAE Systems, this technological leap forward marries 3-D printing and chemical processes, making it possible to “grow aircraft and some of their complex electronic systems, conceivably from a molecular level upwards.”

The British defense giant has teamed with a smaller company called Cronin Group Plc of Glasgow, Scotland, which developed the Chemputer.

Lee Cronin, founding scientific director at Cronin and also a professor at the University of Glasgow, said they have been developing means “to digitize synthetic and materials chemistry,” with the aim of assembling complex machines — inside a machine — “from the bottom up, or with minimal human assistance.”

The same technology also could be used to produce multi-functional parts for larger manned aircraft, he said, though BAE and Cronin appear to be promoting the futuristic alchemy as a means of producing small, customized and incredibly fast unmanned aerial vehicles.

The technology would use environmentally sustainable materials and support military operations in instances where multiple small drones with various capabilities might be needed quickly, according to BAE.

“Creating small aircraft would be very challenging but I’m confident that creative thinking and convergent digital technologies will eventually lead to the digital programming of complex chemical and material systems,” Cronin said.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.