US Univer­sity re­search on UAV to track miss­ing per­sons in search and res­cue mis­sions


Re­search at the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati could soon en­able un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAV) — sim­i­lar to US mil­i­tary drones pa­trolling the skies of Afghanistan — to track down miss­ing per­sons on search-and-res­cue mis­sions, to pen­e­trate cur­tains of smoke dur­ing wild­fire sup­pres­sion, or pos­si­bly even to nav­i­gate ur­ban land­scapes on de­liv­ery runs for on­line re­tail­ers like Ama­zon. It all could be done au­tonomously with a hu­man act­ing only as a su­per­vi­sor.

“Drones have got­ten a very bad rap for var­i­ous rea­sons,” says Kelly Co­hen, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Aerospace En­gi­neer­ing and En­gi­neer­ing Me­chan­ics at the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati. “But our stu­dents see that un­manned sys­tems can have a pos­i­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety.”

A Univer­sity of Cincin­nati re­lease re­ports that Co­hen and a team of re­searchers have de­vel­oped an ex­per­i­men­tal ca­pa­bil­ity to cap­ture the dy­namic be­hav­iour of the UAV plat­form, which com­ple­ments other work they have done with UAVs in dis­as­ter man­age­ment op­er­a­tions. Wei Wei, one of Co­hen’s stu­dents and the lead au­thor of “Fre­quency-Do­main Sys­tem Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Simulation of a Quadro­tor Con­troller,” will present the UAV dy­nam­ics re­search at the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Aero­nau­tics and As­tro­nau­tics’ SciTech 2014 con­fer­ence in Na­tional Har­bor, Mary­land.

In his re­search, Wei used spe­cial en­gi­neer­ing soft­ware to de­velop the dy­namic model es­sen­tial for au­topi­lot de­sign for a wide va­ri­ety of un­manned air­craft hav­ing mul­ti­ple ro­tors. He has ap­plied his method to quadro­tors — UAVs with four pro­pel­lers — and other types of drones, but it can work with nearly any air­craft.

Co­hen says there is noth­ing on the mar­ket today like Wei’s sys­tem be­cause of its low cost and fast, highly ac­cu­rate re­sults. Cincin­nat­i­based en­tre­pre­neur Steve Burns is al­ready work­ing with the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati on a con­cept ve­hi­cle us­ing Wei’s sim­u­la­tions, through a re­cent Univer­sity of Cincin­nati Re­search In­sti­tute con­tract.

“A sell­ing point for this con­fig­u­ra­tion is its ef­fi­ciency, in both time and money, and the ac­cu­racy,” Wei says. “We’re al­ready prov­ing it us­ing flight-test data, and it has matched nearly per­fectly. This would en­able not only quadro­tors, but any fly­ing ob­jects to op­er­ate on au­topi­lot.”

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