Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are now widely accessible as recreational and specialised commercial platforms for a range of applications across sectors including transport, agriculture, critical infrastructure and media. Drone technology is predicted to change how we deliver and collect goods, give us new ways to monitor and understand the world around us, and even revolutionise emergency services.
Researchers supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) are involved in both developing the technology and its applications and utilising drones to support research activities. An example of a significant project in this sector is U-Flyte, a strategic research partnership, coordinated by Maynooth University and funded by Science Foundation Ireland.
The U-Flyte partnership was launched in March 2018 at Waterford Airport. It is focused on tackling the current global bottleneck impeding the wider development of drone operations and roll-out of commercial services, with a focus on a series of inter-connected work-packages that deal with investigating, building and testing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Traffic-Management (UTM), underpinned by a 3D drone airspace model (U-Space).
The project involves a broad range of national and international stakeholders including the Irish Coast Guard, Commissioner for Irish Lights, Teagasc, Airbus, Irlandia Aviation and Intel. The project sees researchers from NUI Maynooth recreate flying environments for drones as digital models, considering a wide range of factors like air traffic, buildings and electricity lines, then testing them in the real world at Waterford Airport and other selected locations around Ireland.
The project also involves investigation and development of sector-specific commercial applications for operational drone services. The areas of interest are Marine, Land, Critical Infrastructure & Emergency Management. An over-arching objective of the project is to establish a “drone R&D hub” that will act as a foundation for a national drone research ecosystem that provides industry partners with access to a large-scale test-bed to develop new technologies and business models and act as an attractant for innovative start-ups in the sector.
Drone technology is one of several areas of advanced technologies that holds the potential to impact many Irish industry sectors and indeed wider Irish society. As the above example shows, we are building on our capabilities in this field. This, in-turn, aligns with our priorities under Future Jobs Ireland 2019 which underlines the Government’s determination for our enterprises and workers to be well prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in light of emerging and new technologies.