Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) and The University of Sydney have developed a world-first radio-tracking drone to locate radio-tagged wildlife.
Lead researcher Dr Debbie Saunders from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society said the drones have successfully detected tiny radio transmitters weighing as little as one gram. The system has been tested by tracking bettongs at the Mulligan’s Flat woodland sanctuary in Canberra.
“The small aerial robot will allow researchers to more rapidly and accurately find tagged wildlife, gain insights into movements of some of the world’s smallest and least known species, and access areas that are otherwise inaccessible,” Dr Saunders said.
“We have done more than 150 test flights and have demonstrated how the drones can find and map the locations of animals with radio tags.”
Researcher Oliver Cliff, from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney, said the technology had generated international interest.
“Lots of people are trying to do this. It is not an easy process, but we believe we’ve come up with a solution,” he said.
“We’ve had interest in our system from all around the world. We are still doing some fine tuning but we’ve achieved more than has ever been done before, which is exciting.”
Dr Saunders, a wildlife ecologist, came up with the idea eight years ago to track small dynamic migratory birds such as the endangered swift parrot.
The new system, funded by an ARC Linkage Project Grant and Loro Parque Foundacion, has been built and tested over the past two and a half years with Dr Robert Fitch and his team at the ACFR at the University of Sydney.
The robot consists of an off-the-shelf drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The custom-built miniature receiver and antenna provide real-time information on radio-tracked wildlife, which are mapped live on a laptop.
ANU Associate Professor Adrian Manning, also from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, has helped the team by attaching VHF and GPS collars on bettongs at Mulligan’s Flat.
“Radio tracking of collars manually is very time consuming,” Associate Professor Manning said.
“Early indications are that the drones could save a huge amount of time. If you have two operators working and they can put the drone up in two bursts of 20 minutes, they can do what would take half a day or more to do using ground methods.”
Read more: Drones used to track wildlife
Shorter take-offs and landings for aircraft, and better manoeuvreabilty for UAVs are just two of the possible benefits of an EU-supported breakthrough in propulsion technology.
The vector thrust system developed by the ACHEON project is capable of directing the flow and pressure output of an aircraft engine to control its direction using a special nozzle that does not require additional mechanical moving parts, thus overcoming the main limitations of traditional vector thrust technologies, which are both complex and costly.
The project involved six universities and two research organisations from across the EU, including a team at Lincoln University’s school of engineering, which was responsible for evaluating the technology and its potential integration within aircraft. The research was funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission, which supports projects starting from academia that have promising potential industrial applications.
The nozzle’s design is based on two technologies; the HOMER nozzle concept by University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, and PEACE – Plasma Enhanced Actuator for Coanda Effect – that enhances the effects of the nozzle, created by University of Beira Interior, Portugal.
The Lincoln team evaluated the technology for a number of potential applications, including an umanned aerial vehicle (UAV), a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) military type application and both a large and small passenger transport aircraft.
As well as looking at the aerospace sector, the team is now evaluating how the nozzle technology could be used in other industrial applications, such as in the agricultural sector, where this could help farmers develop closer control of the areas sprayed with weedkiller. It could also be used to develop more accurate printing processes.