Changing the world from a birdseye view

29 Oct 2016

“Much of what we hear about drone technology is related to foreign weaponry or even hobby toys – but drones (unmanned autonomous aircrafts) are capable of much more than this. Our research focusses on first responder applications, in areas such as, fire safety, ambulance, police and surf-life saving. In 2014 we developed a technology that provides safety information on climatic conditions required by the fire brigade. In our Australian climate with fires being a common threat, this reliable early fire-detection will save lives.

When I first started in this area, drones were able to achieve 10 minutes of flight time and carry only small loads. Today, in our labs by synthesising the latest battery, aerodynamic and robotics technology we are able to use 2kg aircrafts to carry 300g with 90 minutes of flight time! With this in mind, the use of drone technology can extend to functions that impact us on a daily basis, such as infrastructure maintenance and agriculture. For instance, the maintenance of bridges or power lines require a technical worker to climb out in a safety harness to inspect the structure, or a helicopter to fly close to the structure. These dangerous duties can lead to injury or death and in the USA almost 100 people die from this very danger every year. Through drone technology – this danger can be avoided.

Drones can also be useful in agriculture for food safety inspections. A big problem in farming is that the amount of yield each season will produce is not guaranteed. Farmers currently use helicopters to inspect their fields to determine yields, however this is an expensive and slow operation. Imagine if drones could provide real-time information about how a farmer’s crops are growing!

Of course, drone technology also extends to transport. The outworking of this means, an organ transplant can be delivered to the recipient in record time to save their life. We are only just getting started on the potential for drone technology!

Every day I wake up, excited by the prospect that I can come up with new ideas to improve drone technology – ideas that will change our lives for the better. Since I was 5 years of age, I was fascinated by things that move and technology. During my undergraduate degree in systems engineering I discovered robots – these creations that combined electro-systems, mechanical-systems and information technology – all of my favourite topics! You could imagine my excitement when I soon learned there were such things as ‘flying robots’ (drones)! I am very proud to be in this field of engineering.

Teaching our bright students at UQ is inspiring as they come up with brilliant ideas that quite often become patented technology. In my robotics lab, we are teaching students that go on to become entrepreneurs and leaders. Engineering is so valuable to our society – after all engineers keep the lights on, the bridges running and the planes in the sky!

Imagine where drone technology could take us. What are the possibilities?”

To play a role in making the possibilities a reality, and to support the development of new ideas in drone technology that improve our society, we hope that you might consider donating to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Research Fund.

Philanthropic support is vital in our research as donors enable us to explore innovative ideas to create a better world.