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New £1.25mn drone lab to place UK at forefront of aerial robotics research

Thu 6 Nov 2014

The UK’s efforts in next-generation drone research and development have been bolstered by a proposed £1.25mn robotics testing lab at the Imperial College of London.

The Brahmal Vasudevan aerial robotics centre will be a two-storey extension on top of Imperial College’s City and Guilds building located in South Kensington.

The lab will provide test facilities for robots that can both fly and operate underwater autonomously.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to create a state-of-the-art facility, not only in the UK but worldwide,” Dr Mirko Kovac, director of Imperial College’s aerial robotics lab, told the Guardian. “The time is right to invest in drones because devices like smartphones are so widespread, technology like the GPS chip has become small and cheap and can be used for drones, which has fuelled this type of research.”

Kovac added that industries such as “oil and gas, water, agriculture, energy, health, flooding response and search and rescue,” are beginning to realise the importance of drones in transforming their businesses.

“Drones are moving away from military use toward the civil space in service to humanity in general driving momentum in the space,” he said.

The lab will be equipped with 16 high-speed 3D cameras to capture the drones in flight, and an additional eight installed underwater. The new robotics centre will also feature a fume extraction system, which sets the facility apart from drone labs at other universities such as MIT and Bristol.

Kovac explained that this “is unique and will allow us to research and test combustion for flying robots so that we can develop new engines and new principles for robotics using hazardous chemicals.”

The project has been funded by Brahmal Vasudevan, an alumnus of the College, and CEO of Creador, a leading Asian private equity firm.

“Aerial robotics has a tremendous range of applications, and Imperial is well-equipped to play a pivotal role in this nascent industry,” said the president of Imperial College, Professor Alice Gast.

Construction is planned to start in 2016, and the facility will open in 2017.


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