Several years of research have brought about the Center for Unmanned Air Systems (C-UAS)— a partnership of BYU and CU Boulder, funded by the National Science Foundation— which seeks to advance technologies in the unmanned air vehicle industry.
- Principal Investigator: Tim McLain
- Co-PI’s: Randy Beard, Michael Goodrich, Mark Colton
- Website: https://c-uas.byu.edu/
Professors, graduate student mentors, and undergraduate research assistants have collaborated since 2012 to find innovative solutions to challenges presented in the burgeoning field of remote-controlled aircrafts. These unmanned Air Systems (UAS) have an almost unlimited potential for civil, governmental, and commercial uses, not just stereotypical military applications. However, as this is a relatively new area of engineering, there is still much to be developed. Some of the difficulties in the industry come from wanting the drones to do many tasks, but still needing the vehicle to have easy take-off and to be light, compact, low power, and adaptable to various situations and weather. With the vast uses in mind, much of their research focuses on designing aircrafts to optimize flight time, battery capacity, image quality, and detection effectiveness. So far the team has worked to create things like: algorithms that simplify signal output; sensors to detect and circumvent other aircrafts, then recalculate flight paths; modern weather-sensing radars; and communication interface that relays and receives real-time information.
Intellectual Merit: The goal of the Center for Unmanned Air Systems is to overall expand knowledge and technology, benefitting an entire industry, and perhaps inspiring future inventions. The team travels to give presentations, inviting collaboration from the international and industrial communities, which are surprisingly vast; there are about 700 organizations that are AUVSI members, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Of significance to BYU, this project builds on past BYU Research, and continues to assert BYU as an engineering leader nationally and internationally. Specifically of note to students is that this project provides an opportunity for students to be heavily involved in conducting original research and contribute to a team of peers and professionals. If they so choose, this work could be the foundation for launching their graduate and professional work. In the past, the select undergraduate research assistants have been invited based on their performance in junior-level classes. These students then put their skills to the test, training on radio frequency system design, electromagnetics and signal processing theory. One exciting aspect of their research includes conducting carefully monitored collision scenarios.
As before mentioned, there are many peaceful applications for UAS. Some examples include asset surveillance for agriculture, communications, firefighting, border patrol, sensing oil pipelines, and monitoring wildlife. Referring to the last, nations are looking to innovative technology to end poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. For example, the horn of a rhino goes for more than six times the price of gold on the black market. Professionals estimate that the total industry of criminal wildlife trade is worth an annual $19 billion. UAS have the potential to survey animal populations and illicit poaching across vast areas. Another astonishing example of the extent of drone application is its ability for early levee failure detection. A levee is a structure or embankment placed to prevent rivers from overflowing, and is a common part of flood protection and water distribution networks. Aircrafts can provide effective monitoring of these service infrastructures with its computer vision, providing early detection of weaknesses in the building structure. When problems are quickly realized, prompt and effective action is taken, minimizing costs and environmental repercussions. In total, Unmanned Air Systems could be the key to meeting a vast amount of societal needs.