Autonomous aircraft are beginning to show promise in a host of applications, from delivering mail between remote Scottish islands to transporting medical supplies between healthcare facilities across the Solent. But if the use of drones was to significantly increase in more city or suburban locations, so too would the risk of collision with buildings.
To help investigate the threat such craft could pose in urban environments – and come up with ways to mitigate the risks – academic Dr Hubert Shum is developing technology that promises to keep a closer watch on drones in flight. His study received £30,000 in funding from the Transport Research and Innovation Grants programme, delivered by Connected Places Catapult for the Department for Transport.
“Drones are very powerful tools for transportation but they can also be very dangerous and pose a risk to infrastructure, especially if they are misused,” Hubert explains. “My project is about improving the detection and tracking of drones in order to protect vulnerable buildings.”
His work involves developing computer vision systems using Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to analyse images and real-time videos of drones in flight, in order to spot when an airborne craft might collide with fixed infrastructure, and allow corrective action to be taken.
“I used my TRIG money to hire two PhD students as part-time researchers to carry out development and research – as part of a job share – and to work with a specialist company on validation and testing,” he says. “I received lots of support from the Catapult in terms of helping me to understand contracts and funding, and several of their events allowed me to meet with likeminded people.