Project investigates potential of UAVs for disaster response

An Australian collaborative project is to investigate the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in providing intelligence in the wake of natural disasters.

The AUS$7m (£4.6m) Project ResQu brings together the nation’s top aerospace experts from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Boeing Research & Technology-Australia, Boeing subsidiary Insitu Pacific and CSIRO.

‘As a result of our research, UAVs fitted with cameras will be able to help pinpoint communities and people in need of rescue during natural disasters and to regularly monitor the health of the environment such as finding invasive weeds in rainforests,’ said Prof Duncan Campbell, director of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA) at QUT.

‘This potentially life-saving technology will not only help provide accurate information during disasters but also enable air rescue crews to better target their response.’

According to Campbell, if UAVs had been able to fly in civil airspace during last year’s Queensland floods, they could have played a critical role in assisting in the disaster response.

‘Because they can fly for extended periods of time in conditions considered too dangerous for manned aircraft, they are ideally suited to search-and-rescue activities, as well as flood mapping, conducting damage assessments and delivering aid to remote communities,’ he said.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA) is currently developing new guidance material for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and has a longer-term project to review Civil Aviation Safety Regulation 101. One of the targets for Project ResQu is to make recommendations to CASA by the end of 2014 for possible inclusion in the updated regulation.

Project ResQu will enable the fast-tracking of research to fit unmanned aircraft with smart technologies to enable them to both sense and avoid other aircraft, and to land safely in emergencies. These are currently the two key technical impediments to the greater use of unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace.