Aerial robotics arena to open in London

A new arena for aerial robots at Imperial College London is expected to put Britain at the forefront of unmanned aerial systems and inspire the next generation of aeronautical engineers.

According to Imperial, the global market value of unmanned aerial robot manufacturing is expected to reach an estimated $89bn in the next ten years, with applications ranging from search and rescue, wildlife conservation and inspection and repair of industrial facilities, particularly in hazardous environments.     

Imperial says it aims to capitalise on its position as one of the UK’s leading centres for aerial robotics research with the development of the new laboratory at its South Kensington Campus.

The development of this £1.25m facility has been made possible thanks to a gift from Imperial alumnus Brahmal Vasudevan, the founder and CEO of private equity firm Creador.

The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will consist of a two-storey laboratory and workshop, hosted by the City and Guilds building, on its roof. It will have teaching facilities for undergraduates and postgraduates, housing a workshop for manufacturing aerial robots and an enclosed arena for test flights.  It will also be one of only a handful of facilities in the world that will be able to test hybrid aerial robots that can fly and then dive into water.

Prof Jeff Magee, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said: ‘The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will be a focal point for our aerial robotics research and education activities. We also want this facility to a place for prospective students and school children to visit, inspiring them to become future aeronautical engineers.’

The flight arena will include sixteen high-speed 3D aerial tracking cameras that will wirelessly control how the robots fly, and also record their flight dynamics which will be fed in real-time back to computers. A further eight 3D tracking cameras will be positioned in a water tank, which will be used to test the combination aerial robots as they dive into and swim through the water.

The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will also bring the testing facilities into closer proximity with manufacturing facilities at the College. These workshops have 3D printers and laser micromachining equipment, which is used to fabricate components, making construction of the aerial robots more efficient. 

The new location is also expected to lead to more and varied collaborations between people across different scientific and engineering disciplines at the College and across the UK.

Construction of the Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will begin in 2016.