Photo: Sky-watch

Keep an eye on the drones

Thursday 18 Dec 14


Michael Linden-Vørnle
Astrophysicist and Chief Adviser
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 61

From military to civil use

Historically, unmanned systems have been used by the military to monitor the enemy and supply weapons. But as the technology is becoming more widespread, drones have become public property. Unmanned systems are gradually being reduced in size, becoming more advanced and are able to handle several tasks at the same time.

This is the case with small helicopters flying in densely populated areas and carrying out monitoring tasks. However, large unmanned systems are also becoming more common, such as the Global Hawk used by the American space station NASA as a research platform.

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A new centre for unmanned systems—better known as drones—will collaborate with Danish and foreign businesses, authorities and public institutions to develop and apply new Technologies.

Recent years' development in unmanned systems has led to a revolution in the dissemination and application of drones. Today, drones are used for monitoring natural areas, conducting measurements from the air and mapping climate change, among other things. New drone-based services are also in the pipeline. The American online company Amazon, for instance, is currently making efforts to use drones for delivering customers' goods only half an hour after ordering them.

DTU Space Drone Centre
The demand is also increasing in Denmark. Therefore, DTU Space has now opened the doors to the DTU Space Drone Centre, which will collaborate with Danish and foreign authorities, businesses and public institutions in the field of unmanned systems—better known as drones. The collaboration will take place in the form of projects, coordination meetings, workshops and knowledge sharing through UAS Denmark, which is the Danish drone industry network.

"Unmanned systems create value both on land and at sea —on and below the surface—as well as in the air. This is a clear trend in the USA, where the technology is in an advanced stage of development," says Niels Andersen, Member of the Executive Board—Business and Public Sector at DTU Space.

He stresses that with the establishment of the centre, DTU has the opportunity to become a driving force within a high-tech development area with considerable innovation potential for Danish society—an area which also has a global outreach.

Multi-purpose unmanned systems
DTU is already involved in the research and development of unmanned systems in collaboration with the industry as well as civil and military authorities. Researchers at DTU Space are, among other things, investigating the possibility of launching satellites and drones to monitor the Arctic region, which is very difficult to access.

"The military, for example, can use drones to monitor ships operating in a given area, but the same data can also show the amount of sea ice in the surrounding waters. This is the type of multi-application we want to work with in the drone centre."

Photo: The Royal Danish Navy
Drones with wings generally have a longer cruising range than drones with rotors. This is a fixed-wing Puma drone used by, e.g., the military.

Drones capable of vertical takeoff and landing
In another research project, DTU Space and DTU Environment are collaborating with the Danish drone company Sky-Watch to develop a new type of drone called a 'Smart UAV '(Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) capable of vertical takeoff and landing, but which also has wings that increase speed and cruising range.

DTU contributes to the project with, e.g., high-precision navigation, making it possible to operate the drone with extreme accuracy. This will enable the Smart UAV to cruise over long distances with high flexibility and precision. This makes it ideal for carrying out environmental monitoring tasks, inspections of buildings and installations that are difficult to access as well as maritime monitoring tasks in the Arctic region.

Research environment is vital
According to Michael Messerschmidt, who works with business development at Sky-Watch, the drone centre at DTU Space will have a major impact on other similar companies working with unmanned systems:

"If Denmark is to become one of the leading nations in the field of drones, the research environment needs to provide support in the form of know-how and experts. This is the basic research which is to prepare the ground for even more companies developing e.g. software and autonomous platforms."

To solve the tasks, DTU will draw on a wide range of technologies applied in particular at DTU Space, DTU Electrical Engineering, DTU Wind Energy, DTU Environment, and DTU Compute. This means that DTU can contribute to developing new products, such as high-precision navigation and sensor systems or perform specific tasks, such as data analysis and data fusion.

Read more at (in Danish only)

Article from DYNAMO no. 39, DTU's quarterly magazine in Danish.

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