Research underway at the University of Newcastle could someday improve the capabilities of autonomous aircraft, including their potential use in hazardous situations.
In situations, such as bushfires, unmanned aircraft could one day be sent to the forefront to track and register possible threats. This type of aircraft has been in operation since the 1990s, and has the potential to be used for a wide range of tasks ranging from sea rescue searches and power-line inspection to crop yield estimations.
University of Newcastle Associate Professor, Tristan Perez, is working in collaboration with Boeing Research & Technology – Australia to improve autonomous aircraft technology. The initial focus is the development of a framework for quantifying the autonomy during design and qualification.
“The research aims to measure the safety, reliability and effectiveness of autonomous aircraft,” he said. “As the level of autonomy in aircraft increases, a framework needs to be in place to ensure levels of safety that meet regulations,” he said.
The number of applications for which autonomous aircraft can be used is growing significantly as the technology improves.
“Unmanned aircraft systems are increasingly going to be part of the solution for niche applications where manned aircraft are unsuitable and although we have already achieved so much in the industry, the best is yet to come. Studies show that unmanned aerial vehicles will continue to be the most dynamic growth sector of the aerospace industry worldwide.
“Improving the abilities and safety of autonomous aircraft will lead to increased use,” he said.
A/Professor Perez leads the area of mechatronics in the School of Engineering. Mechatronics is a young discipline that combines mechanical, electrical and software engineering to design and develop complex products.
The work on autonomous aircraft falls within a larger research program on robotics in the School of Engineering.
For interviews: Associate Professor Tristan Perez, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, 02 4921 6779 or via email at Tristan.Perez@newcastle.edu.au