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TAMU-CC’s Lone Star UAS Center Partners with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Develop Technologies to Improve UAS

June 20, 2016

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas —The Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence and Innovation at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have partnered to develop lighter sensors and longer-use batteries for unmanned aircraft systems; improvements that will result in even more uses for this new aerospace industry.

“Smaller, lighter and more advanced sensors keep the University and its Lone Star UAS Center on the cutting edge of UAS development,” said Jerry Hendrix, the Center’s Executive Director. “More capabilities and longer run times translate into more applications and more tasks that UAS can be programmed to do.”

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Tennessee operated by UT-Battelle.

The partnership, formalized with an agreement in earlier this year, fosters collaboration on research and development programs and projects that address security concerns for UAS operations in the national airspace.

Areas of collaboration between the two institutions include developing and testing:

  • Safety credentialing for UAS operators for the energy sector
  • Micro-sensors for UAS
  • Using the lab’s supercomputers for modeling UAS, to give an accurate picture of what the airspace will look like in the future with UAS and piloted aircrafts
  • Sense-and-avoid solutions using micro-technology
  • Alternative energy sources for UAS, including improved engines, motors and batteries, alternate fuels and fuel cell technology.

While the partnership is still in its early stage, Dr. Melanie Neely Willis, Assistant Director at the University’s Lone Star UAS Center, explains the type of work that may be explored is a smaller sensor for hyperspectral imagery that can be used to examine plants for disease, health or water status. Oak Ridge has developed small sensors, weighing less than 2 pounds, which can be mounted on a small UAS.

Until recently, this type of heavy equipment would be mounted on a tabletop and was sensitive to motion. Recent advances have miniaturized and expanded hyperspectral capabilities.

“In the past, you would bring the plant leaf in and put it under the equipment,” she said. “But now you can place the sensor on a drone and fly it over an entire field to collect precision data.”

Another area of exploration is battery life or fuel cell technology to improve UAS air time. Larger UAS may run for about two hours at a time. But many smaller ones have a limit of about 30 minutes. It’s a limiting factor in several applications.

The partnership also calls for collaboration with supercomputing, an essential part as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Lone Star UAS Center and the other five federally designated test sites seek to show the projections for UAS in the airspace. These detailed projections show not only the planes, unpiloted and piloted, but also the radio signals used by each for different communications.