Unmanned systems are as we speak significantly transforming our everyday lives, altering how we collect and deliver products, giving us new ways to track and comprehend the world around us as well as revolutionising emergency solutions.
In Ireland, a substantial funding program has now been announced that will allow the country’s autonomous aviation industry to makes leaps forward in development and innovation.
John Halligan TD, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, for Ireland has announced a huge boost to research in the form of €1.8 million from the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) , in addition to €4.5 million investment from business (both money and in-kind) to Dr Tim McCarthy, Maynooth University Department of Computer Science and National Centre for Geocomputation, to develop a brand new drone technology initiative called U-Flyte.
Based in Maynooth University, U-Flyte is a SFI Strategic Research Partnership award that involves a collaborative project with partners throughout aviation, and will involve input from nearly twenty companies including Airbus, Irelandia Aviation, and Intel.
U-Flyte’s primary focus is to deal with a current global backlog that is considered to be holding back drone operations within Ireland, as well as assisting businesses with the roll-out of drone-related services. This will be done by improving access to the essential research, information and case studies required to steer industry and agencies in the safe deployment of drones beyond current limits.
“Drone technology has the potential to be used for a wide range of practical applications, from the simple delivery of online shopping, to capturing data for maps of farms, forests, lake and coastlines, and providing security surveillance in vulnerable areas,” said Dr McCarthy.
“Experts even foresee drones being used to transport life-saving medical supplies, or coming to the aid of swimmers, making search and rescue operations safer and more efficient than ever before. However, new research is required to ensure that drones can operate safely and securely. This project will be using the latest navigation, optical, and radar sensors on-board our drones to gather data and feed it back through a system of connected secure networks to powerful computing platforms.”
The project will see researchers recreate UAV flying environment in digital form, to recreate real-life obstacles to safe drone flight such as traffic, buildings and power lines. Therse factors will then be tested in the real world at the Waterford Airport facility and other selected locations in Ireland.
Waterford airport was chosen as an ideal location for the U-Flyte program as it is handy to both shore and offshore regions. This would enable researchers to examine increased performance drones for marine programs, such as the collection of ocean data, and research and rescue programs.
Director of innovation and education Margie McCarthy, says that SFI is pleased to be involved. “The potential societal impact of drone technology spans multiple sectors including agriculture, marine, emergency services, and transportation. However, drone capabilities have outpaced the supporting regulations and technologies,” she said.
“The SFI Strategic Partnerships Programme facilitates the collaboration of key researchers, government bodies and industry partners to collectively pave the way for U-Flyte and other disruptive technologies to challenge our norms and capitalise on the advantages offered by innovative and impactful research and development.”
President of Maynooth University Professor Philip Nolan says the partnership underlies Maynooth’s position as a leader of innovation, adding, “We are tremendously proud of this project and believe Maynooth University is uniquely positioned to carry out what is truly future-setting research because of the strong relationships with our industry partners and the interdisciplinary research strengths we bring to bear on an issue as multi-faceted and complex as the future of drone operations.”
By having both Airbus and Intel on board as contributors to the project, U-Flyte is able to access the knowledge and experience of some of the most highly advanced unmanned aviation and robotics innovators on the planet.
However project manager at Airbus Defence and Space Chris Alexander says it goes both ways: “Airbus seeks to always be at the forefront of aerial research and technology, and for this reason, we are proud to collaborate with Maynooth University on the U-Flyte programme. We believe that the research undertaken by U-Flyte is going to contribute significantly to the development of drone usage not only in Ireland, but on a global scale.”
Intel’s director of European innovation, Brian Quinn also predicts that U-Flyte will assist Intel in the development of its own drone technology, saying: “Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) continue to play a much more fundamental role within our enterprises and our daily lives. Robotics, driver assisted cars and drones are real examples of this. The dependability and reliability of these systems is critical, with U-Flyte we can progress this important research agenda on drone mission systems through both hardware and software platforms.”