APPENDIX 4: SITE VISIT |
Civil use of Drones in the EU: visit to Cranfield
University, 22 October 2014
As part of the Committee's inquiry into the Civil
use of Drones in the EU, a Committee delegation visited Cranfield
University to discuss issues of relevance to its inquiry, in particular
the technologies being developed to facilitate the integration
of RPAS into unsegregated airspace, and to view first hand an
RPAS in operation. This delegation included Baroness O'Cathain
(Chairman), Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe,Lord Fearn; the
Earl of Liverpool and Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. The delegation
was accompanied by Alicia Cunningham (Clerk) and Paul Dowling
Professor Philip John, Pro-Vice-Chancellor,
Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, started the day by giving
an overview of Cranfield University's history of involvement in
developing and testing unmanned aircraft. He made particular reference
to the university's work on the "Demon uninhabited air vehicle"
when highlighting some of the difficult issues faced by developers
of RPAS. For example, he referred to a scale of nine 'technology
readiness levels' and how moving from levels 4-6 to level 9 was
the most difficult and expensive part of any RPAS development.
He also explained how the university complied with UK regulatory
requirements and safety protocols when testing the Demon UAV at
a military site in Scotland.
Professor Antonis Tsourdos, Head of the Centre
of Cyber-Physical Systems, gave a presentation about his Centre's
research in developing 'detect and avoid' technology for RPAS.
He explained how regulatory drivers, such as the need for safety
and transparency, and business needs, such as affordability and
public acceptance, were setting the technology targets for his
team. He explained how existing traffic collision avoidance systems
(TCAS) work on manned aircraft, and what modifications would be
required for it to be used on an RPAS system. Going one step further,
he said that developing fully autonomous RPAS presents further
challenges in that such systems would have to mimic human pilot
behaviour when responding to emergency situations.
Pete McCarthy, a former RAF pilot working at the
Safety & Accident Investigation Centre at Cranfield University,
told the Committee of the potential uses of RPAS as a tool for
investigating crash sites. He said that the Malaysian Airlines
aircraft which was shot down over the Ukraine was a good, if terribly
unfortunate, example of where an RPAS could have been used to
determine whether the crash site was safe for human investigators
to enter, thereby possibly preventing unnecessary physical and
psychological trauma. An RPAS could also have taken photos soon
after the crash, thereby providing some record in case there was
any tampering with the evidence on site.
David Gardner and Gordon Dickman, Cranfield Aerospace,
spoke about their company's experience as an SME in aviation.
They explained the work they had done as part of the Project Ultra
consortium (an EU funded project as part of the Seventh Framework
Programme for Research and Development) and how this work was
subsequently subsumed into the European RPAS Roadmap.
Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor,
joined the Committee in watching an outdoor demonstration of an
RPAS flying over a mock aircraft crash site. A pilot controlled
an RPAS (a unit weighing approximately eight kilos, equipped with
a camera sitting on a rotating arm, and with eight rotors) using
a handheld control as it flew in blustery conditions over and
around the crash site, while a separate operator controlled the
camera. Committee Members were able to see live, high definition
footage of the crash site on a handheld screen as the RPAS was
flown over it.