UVic Aerospace Research Gets Lift Off

The University Victoria is primed to establish itself in the market for unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) thanks to more than $670,000 in Western Economic Diversification funding announced today by the federal government.

The funding supports research and development of UAVs, which are autonomous aircraft remotely flown and monitored from a mobile ground control station, at UVic’s new Centre for Aerospace Research near Sidney, B.C. The uses for UAVs include: fire patrol, coast guard surveillance, port security, border patrol, avalanche prevention, agricultural crop surveys, habitat assessment, migration studies and poaching patrol, pipeline patrol, infrared mapping and powerline inspection.

The UAV initiative is part of UVic’s move to position itself at the leading edge of aerospace research and at the forefront of an emerging industry in Western Canada. The funding allows UVic to take a major leap forward in establishing a strong niche position in this new market and developing efficient and highly configurable UAVs at a competitive cost for a broad range of purposes.

The market, says Professor Afzal Suleman, director of the UVic Centre for Aerospace Research, Department of Mechanical Engineering, is so embryonic it is difficult to estimate its size yet, but it is estimated to be in the billions. Suleman, an aerospace engineer, will lead the UVic UAV team (Faculty of Engineering). UVic’s Aero Club will also play a role in development.

Civilian UAV commercial use is currently in the embryonic stage in North America. There is a significant marketplace gap between unreliable hobby-grade aircraft and expensive turnkey (“off-the-shelf”) systems geared specifically for government and military use. At present, UAVs for civilian application are priced well beyond the reach of industry and researchers.

UVic’s new centre will help drive the development of this emerging sector both here in BC and internationally. The benefits and application of UAVs are considerable.

{advertisement} According to UVic, compared to conventional aircraft, UAVs:

  • can operate in environments hazardous to humans and have significantly smaller environmental impacts;
  • can stay in the air for up to 30 hours or more and be back up in the air quickly between operations
  • can operate in challenging conditions such as full darkness, highly repetitive flight patterns, or poor weather

Prototypes include fixed-wing aircraft (wingspan 50cm to 3m and sometimes up to 5m) and “quadcopters” with rotating wings. When a UAV is in operation, people would see it overhead following a pre-determined route—similar to the grid pattern when mowing a lawn—approximately 500 to 1,000 feet above ground with a high-resolution camera on the undercarriage and a mobile control centre within a kilometre or two of the flight site.

UVic’s aerospace design facility will work closely with industrial partners and Transport Canada, and is supported by $671,500 in Western Economic Diversification funding as well as over $1 million over the past five years in cash and in-kind funding from industry and government partner organizations.

UVic says it intends to produce — from the ground up, through conceptualization and design to manufacture, testing, operation and monitoring — a family of airframe prototypes that can be readily customized for commercial and research purposes. The new inventions and industrial patents, filed with assistance from UVic Industry Partnerships, will be made available for licensing to industry.