Helicopter Group

The Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment has several research projects that are related to the control of autonomous vehicles and in particular systems of small autonomous helicoptersHelicopter Group. These types of systems can be used for search, surveillance, and mapping with applications in defense, bushfire prevention or monitoring, marine animal surveillance, security, disaster rescue support etc.

The "Helicopter Group" is a team comprising academics from several engineering disciplines who have expertise from previous or current robotics related projects and who have joined forces to manage projects that require interdisciplinary expertise and a larger management team.

Some of the core expertise of the Heli Group comes from

  • Communications (Jamil Khan: Wireless Network Communications)
  • Control (Zhiyong Chen: Decentralised Control)
  • RobotX team (Chris Renton: mechatronics and control)
  • NUbots (Stephan Chalup and Alex Mendes: NUbots Behaviour and Machine Learning, NUClear robot operating system, NUVision system)

Two of our labs are equipped with motion tracking systems for investigating localisation and cooperative multi-agent behaviour.

The Heli Team has capacity to supervise two new PhD students on the following (or similar) topics:

Project 1

Multi-dimensional Systems Control of Networked Autonomous Vehicles


Jamil Khan (EE),  Zhiyong Chen (EE), Alexandre Mendes (CSSE)


This project puts emphasis on finding solutions to the question how a team of autonomous robots can communicate robustly and use energy efficiently. These issues are crucial if a team of robots has to search or monitor a larger area e.g. for bush fire monitoring or in the mining domain. The robots can be a helicopter swarm or a multi-dimensional system that also includes ground vehicles.

Project 2

Intelligent Decentralised Cooperative Control and Sensing of Autonomous Aerial Vehicles


Zhiyong Chen (EE), Stephan Chalup (CSSE), Chris Renton (Mechatronics)


This project investigates in simulation and using real helicopters different types of swarm behaviour. One of the research questions would be how swarm behaviour can be optimised to achieve an efficient cooperative search strategy for rescue applications. The helicopter swarm will use motion-tracking systems in the lab and will also have a computer vision component using on-board cameras that can be fitted to some of the vehicles.

Students will have to organise their own funding, apply for university scholarships or recommend suitable industry partners for collaborative support.

Academic Contacts of the Heli Group


  • S. Chalup, Z. Chen, J. Khan, A. Mendes and C. Renton. Developing an Autonomous Swarm of Small Helicopters: Controlling Cooperative Team Behaviour for Search and Surveillance. Proceedings of the FLFC2014 - Future Land Force Conference, Brisbane, Australia, 2014.
Developing an Autonomous Swarm of Small Helicopters Download (pdf, 139kb)

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.