Unmanned aircraft could send info on Qld emergencies
QUEENSLAND researchers believe they have made a global breakthrough that could soon see small unmanned aircraft travelling over disasters to provide real time vision without putting human lives in danger.
Instead of sending crews in helicopters up to inspect cyclone, flood or bushfire emergencies or damage in blocks of three to four hours, these small aircraft can fly for many hours across regional Queensland sending information back to pilots on the ground.
They could identify people on rooves needing rescue during floods, assess damage in areas inaccessible by road and pinpoint where our emergency responders need to go first.
Researchers say the latest technology breakthrough, which relates to on-board detection sensors that warn when other aircraft are nearby, is a huge step in the worldwide race to get small unmanned aircraft sharing civilian airspace.
Science and Innovation Minister Ian Walker said the technology could have life-saving outcomes in disaster situations including bushfires and floods.
"As we witnessed last week during Tropical Cyclone Dylan, flooding can occur anywhere and at any time," Mr Walker said.
"This technology could see unmanned aircraft carrying out low level flying to assess risk and damage, keeping our emergency service workers out of harm's way.
"Previously, without detection and avoidance technology, the aircraft were limited to non-civilian airspace.
"The Project ResQu initiative has received $1.8 million in Queensland Government funding so far, with a further $200,000 to be paid later this year."
Mr Walker said scientists at the Queensland University of Technology's Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation were the first to crack the on-board detection technology.
ARCAA director Duncan Campbell said the technology was trialled discretely at an airfield north-west of Brisbane on an Insitu Pacific ScanEagle.
He said current regulations did not allow unmanned aircraft in controlled civilian airspace because there were concerns about these aircraft being able to avoid collisions but their sensor tests had been successful.
"Ultimately, this will allow UA to provide public services such as assistance in disaster management and recovery, as well as in environmental, biosecurity and resource management," he said.
"We can see benefit in the use of this technology in general aviation as a detect and avoid aid to the human pilot.
"The final technical hurdle to UA operating in civil airspace is their ability to land safely in an emergency and our collaborative research is expected to make significant strides towards overcoming this hurdle, too, in the coming months."
Insitu Pacific managing director Andrew Duggan, whose aircraft were used to trial the new technology, said search and rescues were just one possibility - also pointing to infrastructure inspections and biosecurity.
He said it was not necessarily cheaper but it was safer.
"Powerlines companies have an issue with long runs of power lines out through the bush, branches striking those power lines is a great cause of bushfires," he said.
"So every year the power line companies have to fly helicopters out very low and slow over those power lines to detect branches that could potentially touch the lines.
"UAs are ideal for those low, slow, dangerous flight. Also for biosecurity - looking for weeds seen from the air.
"Any mission where an aircraft has to be up for long time doing low, slow, dangerous flying, it's the perfect application."
The next step in Project ResQu is to create commercial ready avoidance technology before seeking Civil Aviation Safety Authority approval in Australia.