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Roke Manor Research, Blue Bear Systems, Bristol University, MBDA, SEAS DTC

Landing an Unmanned UAV helicopter is an exacting operation. As the vehicle nears the ground the air pressure beneath increases and a trained pilot typically has to step in to reduce rotor speed and control the descent.

A group led by Roke Manor Research has now developed and demonstrated technology that enables a UAV to identify a suitable landing area and land without any support from ground-based systems.

By removing the need for a trained pilot, the auto-landing system could open new applications for UAVs, for instance, by the emergency services.

Working with UK MoD funding, the group joined forces with engineers from UAV specialist Blue Bear Systems, aerospace manufacturer MBDA and Bristol University to develop a method by which an aircraft’s position and orientation can be determined using information solely from a camera mounted on the aircraft. This data is then used in conjunction with a flight-control system to automatically land the aircraft. The group claims that developing a measurement, processing and control system that achieves this autonomously required a highly innovative use of image-processing techniques.

The system has been trialled on Roke’s electric helicopter UAV where it not only demonstrated a successful landing onto a ground target, but also onto a moving ground vehicle.The system is now being developed into a standalone product for both fixedand rotary-wing vehicles.


EADS Astrium, Surrey University

The collaboration between two of the UK space technology sector’s prime centres of excellence - EADS Astrium and Surrey University - is potentially vital in maintaining the UK’s world-leading position.

Established in January 2009 following the sale of Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) to EADS Astrium, this five-year strategic partnership is already helping to drive forward research in a number of areas.

One result of the Astrium, Surrey collaboration is Cubesail: an innovative device that could be used to help de-orbit satellites

One result of the Astrium, Surrey collaboration is Cubesail: an innovative device that could be used to help de-orbit satellites

A recent example is the group’s Cubesail technology; an ultralight sail that could be used to help de-orbit satellites at the end of their useful life. The innovative device, which will be launched on a demonstration mission in 2011, is a potential solution to the growing problem of space debris: there are now estimated to be 5,500 tonnes of junk in low-Earth orbit. Other areas of research collaboration include Ion Propulsion concepts for the next-generation satellites, lightweight composite materials and solar-energy systems that could collect power from space and beam it back to Earth.

For Astrium, which has, to date, committed £4m to the programme, the collaboration represents an opportunity to invest in and exploit novel space technology research. Meanwhile, the partnership has enabled the university to expand its research capability.


BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Meggitt, Thales, Cranfield, Boeing

The development of vehicles and systems that never break down might sound like a fanciful notion of engineering Nirvana. However, this is the vision of the IVHM (Integrated Vehicle Health Management) centre of excellence, based at Cranfield University.

The centre is driving the development of a range of technologies and systems that can diagnose and even predict faults before they occur. Such an approach could provide a range of benefits to end-users, from reducing the need for unscheduled maintenance, to improving readiness, reliability and availability and potentially extending the useful life of vehicles.

Perhaps unusually, the Cranfield partnership involves companies that are often potential competitors working together and sharing research goals and outputs. The aim is that by operating closely together, the group as a whole will benefit from the inception of co-operative, pre-competitive concepts and will also be able to closely monitor the emergence of state-of-the-art technologies among a range of key industries.

The consequences of new technologies and processes for vehicle health management are far reaching. Beyond aerospace and defence, the potential exists for other industrial sectors such as low carbon and renewable energy (large arrays of wind and wave power generators), transport (road, rail and shipping), consumer goods and healthcare.

The IVHM centre is already setting up a global network by developing relationships with other companies such as UKAEA, SEIC-Loughborough University, and IBM. Meanwhile, results from the centre’s research are already being fed back into IVHM partners research and technology roadmaps.

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