World’s first design course for Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles
The University of Southampton has announced the introduction of a groundbreaking new course for 2011: a Master’s Degree in UAV Design.
From September, postgraduate students can take part in a comprehensive one-year programme covering the design, manufacture and operation of robotic vehicles. This will be the first scheme of its kind and draws on the University of Southampton’s international reputation for maritime and aeronautical research, and its track record of producing award-winning autonomous vehicles.
UAVs may be marine or land-based but are most commonly pilotless aircraft. They are typically used in environments where it would be unsafe or uneconomic to use a conventional manned vehicle, such as exploring under sea ice or monitoring gas emissions from volcanic eruptions.
Cheaper and quicker to develop than conventional aircraft, unmanned air vehicles are also seen as providing an ideal test-bed for new technologies and radical design solutions.
Authorities such as NASA expect UAVs to become "standard tools” in fields such as agriculture, earth-observation and climate monitoring. In Japan, for example, 1000 rotary-wing UAVs are in regular use crop spraying. Other applications include monitoring fish stocks and water quality, weather prediction and emergency search and rescue.
Driven by increased civil demand, the worldwide market for these devices is predicted to grow dramatically, from $6.6bn today to $55bn by 2020. The UK is the European leader in this sector, with 14 companies producing 28 different vehicle designs.
The University of Southampton has been at the forefront of UAV development since the early 1990s, when work began on the Autosub programme at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. This battery-powered submarine undertook its first autonomous mission in July 1996 and went on to map the North Sea, assess herring stocks and travel extensively under sea ice in 300 subsequent voyages.
The same team also developed a ship-launched aerial research vehicle capable of flying continuously for 1000km or eight hours, while back on land the Autonomous Ground Vehicle (AGV), a steerable, wheel-based device, was designed to test robotic space-systems.
The new UAV Masters Design Course will give students practical experience in value-led design. They will be tasked with creating and building a UAV from scratch, which they will ultimately fly to meet a specific mission requirement. This will afford them particular insight into the realities of production and operation. Future courses will include the development of land and space vehicles.
Course leader Professor Jim Scanlan said: "We give our students exciting real-life scenarios for case studies. For example, a current project is the design of UAVs in search and rescue operations which could both save lives and cut the cost of these missions.
"A particular focus of the Southampton work is to develop very low cost UAVs targeted at civil applications, so they can be routinely used in extreme conditions when operators are reluctant to send human beings.”
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