I recently had the honour of attending the MSF Canada AGM in Montreal to join Ivan Gayton and Stephen Mather (from Open DroneMap fame) run a drone day for the MSF logisticians. The aim being to show the realm of the possible with current drone technology as well as touch on future trends and ethical considerations.
A second agenda we had was to promote the democratisation of drone technology to enable crowd sourced imagery collection as part of the Missing Maps initiative. More specifically, the goal is to bring drone technology down to a level where it can be built, maintained, and operated safely, responsibly, and independently by a local high school in South Sudan, the local University of Lubumbashi, or similar.
Last week I attended the Autonomous Systems Showcase event at the University of Southampton. The focus of the event was to bring together industry, government and academia “to explore commercial and research opportunities to deliver the next generation of aerospace, marine, defence and other advanced systems technology to keep the UK at the forefront of these important industries“.
Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, delivered the opening keynote. Other speakers included Sir Brian Burridge, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Finmeccanica UK, and Michael Pickwoad, Production Designer from Dr Who, who talked about his creative process and the relationship between science and fiction.
One liner summary: If you are interested in applying drone/UAV technology (or are already doing so) to humanitarian/social/conservation related problems, and you live in the UK. then get in touch.
I have worked with drones quite extensively in thepast, including some work with the BBC, and still do in various ways now. I have to say, though, that I dislike the term drone and much prefer to use the term UAV or UAS. But that’s a different story.
Inspired by the recent DroneConference in the US, a coffee with the founder of ShadowView, and the enthusiasm of the UAV guy at Doctors Without Borders, I am now looking to reach out to similar minded people and see if maybe we can set up a Drone User Group chapter here in the UK? Founded in the US by Timothy Reuter, their tagline is: Promoting the Use of Civilian Drone Technology for the Benefit of Humanity. They also recently announced a drone social impact award. I contacted Timothy and he was very supportive of the idea.
I was therefore immediately sold when I heard about the Node Copter concept: getting together and see what you can make a Parrot AR Drone do by the end of the day using node.js. Best explained by video:
I got in touch with Benjie (from So Make It) and Andy Nesbitt (who has run a number of these) asking them if they were interested in helping organize one in Southampton.
A bit late after the fact but I have been meaning to do a short post about the latest UAV test flight. A new airframe was developed as part of the European 2Seas 3i project. 2Seas is an EU funded project looking at high reliability UAVs for civil and maritime surveillance.
Its a twin petrol engine aircraft with twin carbon fibre booms, an H-tail and modular payload pod. These pods can be specified to carry a range of cameras and overall endurance can be 12 hours or more. Twin on-board generators maintain the avionics capability for extended duration flights. All up weight is about 20kg.
There is so much polemic surrounding the use of drones these days that it can get frustrating for somebody who also sees the positive contributions the technology can make. Never mind the great potential unmanned technology has for driving innovation and getting youngsters interested in STEM (something that is severelyneeded).
Of course there are lots of questions to be raised about the use of unmanned systems (and remotely piloted aircraft in particular) in military conflict. These topics have been, and still are, debated at length in themedia, wikipedia, and blogs such as DroneWarsUK. Instead, like Drones For Good, I will focus on some of the positive projects the technology has enabled in the humanitarian, environmental, and social space. I am not the only one who would welcome more balanced coverage here.
I realized I never really blogged about this, but the tools I put together were used to design another airframe. The mission was initially quite secretive but now I can reveal that we were working together with the BBC to develop a UAV that could be used to provide footage at the Olympics. As added bonus the Blue Peter show would be involved as well and run a competition to name the aircraft and provide a colorful design.
I gave an overview of the research I’m involved in in a previous post. In a nutshell its about looking at an agile design process for UAVs in the context of Search And Rescue (SAR) missions.
Part of the research involved building a detailed operational simulation model of the Solent area on the South coast of the UK. This simulation model is seeded with historical SAR incident information, weather patterns, as well as the locations of coast guard/RNLI stations & their capabilities. By running the simulation we can then analyze the spatial and temporal distribution of incidents, what the response times are, how often helicopters & lifeboats are needed, etc.
One of the greatest things about this job is that a couple times every year we head out to the airfield and test if the aircraft (a UAV) we have been working on will fly. Below two videos shot a couple of days ago. The civilian mission it will be used for is still hush-hush but it flew beautifully 🙂
Note the gimbal camera under the nose (orange dome) which can automatically lock onto a given object while flying.
A few months ago an email was sent out to all researchers here at the university to solicit volunteers to give lectures/workshops for visiting secondary schools, the TEAtime lectures. As I always enjoy this kind of outreach I volunteered, went through some info sessions and did my lecture yesterday. Basically I gave an overview of UAV technology and did a simplified walk through of the aircraft design process. It was a bit ironic though, a computer scientist explaining airflow and aerodynamics :). No slides on slideshare as they’re too big to upload and Im to cheap to pay for PRO :).