Flying robots lab for Imperial

A new £1.25 million arena for flying the next generation of aerial robots will be constructed at Imperial College London

The global market value of unmanned aerial robot manufacturing is expected to reach an estimated $US 89 billion in the next 10 years. These robots have a range of potential applications including search and rescue, wildlife conservation and inspection and repair of industrial facilities, particularly in hazardous environments.      

Imperial aims to capitalise on its position as one of the UK’s leading centres for aerial robotics research with the development of a new state-of-the-art laboratory at its South Kensington Campus. 

The development of this facility is made possible thanks to a gift from Mr Brahmal Vasudevan, an Imperial alumnus. Based in Malaysia, Mr Vasudevan is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of one of Asia’s leading private equity firms Creador.

The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will consist of a two-storey laboratory and workshop, hosted by the City and Guilds building, on its roof. It will have teaching facilities for undergraduates and postgraduates, housing a workshop for manufacturing aerial robots and an enclosed arena for safely carrying out test flights.  It will also be one of only a handful of facilities in the world that will be able to test hybrid aerial robots that can fly and then dive into water, which could be beneficial in the future for search and rescue missions. 

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: ‘Aerial robotics has a tremendous range of applications, and Imperial is well-equipped to play a pivotal role in this nascent industry. Brahmal Vasudevan’s generosity and vision will allow our students, academics and industrial partners to rapidly advance research and innovation in this exciting field. 

‘The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will showcase Imperial’s outstanding abilities and inspire future aeronautical engineers. We are fortunate to have engaged alumni who support the student experience and keep us at the forefront of discovery.’

The flight arena will include the latest technology such as sixteen high-speed 3D aerial tracking cameras that will wirelessly control how the robots will fly and also record their flight dynamics, which will be fed in real-time back to computers. A further eight 3D tracking cameras will be positioned in a water tank, which will be used to test the combination aerial robots as they dive into and swim through the water.

The Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will also bring the testing facilities into closer proximity with manufacturing facilities at the College. These workshops have 3D printers and laser micromachining equipment, which is used to fabricate components, making construction of the aerial robots more efficient. The new location is also expected to lead to more and varied collaborations between people across different scientific and engineering disciplines at the College and across the UK.

Construction of the Brahmal Vasudevan Aerial Robotics Lab will begin in 2016.

Image courtesy of Imperial College London and Rob Sidall