The engineering department at the University of Southampton is launching a new student-led research programme to develop new unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs) to fight back against climate change and poaching.
The launch of the new scheme follows a £15,000 donation from former alumnus and technology entrepreneur Dr Ewan Kirk and Dr Patricia Turner.
Up until now, it has been difficult or impractical to monitor, track and evaluate the impact of environmental degradation from climate change and natural disasters, and poaching in difficult-to-reach and hostile environments, such as remote areas in Africa or places that it might be otherwise dangerous for humans to reach.
While UAVs are currently used to collect important data from these remote regions, their practicality has been restricted by their efficiency and battery life, which significantly limits their reach.
While longer-range UAVs exist, they are often too expensive to deploy on a larger, more widespread scale.
The new Turner-Kirk UAV Research Support Programme will fund three groups of fourth-year students within the engineering department.
Their research will focus on ways to improve the efficiency and extend the battery life of drones, with a view to developing new ways to adapt existing drones on an inexpensive basis as well as studying novel aircraft configurations designed to minimise the energy requirements.
The team will also undertake a field trip to Guatemala next year to monitor a live volcano using the new technology in collaboration with the University of Bristol.
Dr. Ewan Kirk, Director of the Turner-Kirk Charitable Trust, said: "In the future, it is totally possible that remote and hostile environments worldwide will be constantly monitored by UAVs, feeding back live data to environmental agencies, so we can track our global ecosystem in real-time.
"The application of technology is vital to mitigating environmental changes and the conservation of endangered animals, and universities, which are hotbeds for ideas and innovation, have an important role to play in developing the technology needed."
Dr. Patricia Turner, Director of the Turner-Kirk Charitable Trust, said: "Conservation and environmental degradation is one of the most important and urgent challenges that we face.
"It is critically important that universities and researchers have the funds at their disposal to find new, creative technology solutions to these urgent problems.
"I am particularly excited about this research because of the way it engages younger undergraduate students. If we are to realise the potential of drones, it is essential to engage the next generation of research talent in UAV research."
Dr. Mario Ferraro, Senior Enterprise Fellow in the engineering department at the University of Southampton, said: "I would like to thank Ewan and Patricia for this generous gift which will enable us to continue this important and timely stream of research.
"As a team, one of our main priorities is to develop technology that can be used by environment agencies worldwide to make a real difference in minimising the impact of climate change and natural disasters.
"Until now, there's simply not been enough research in this area, and as we all feel the effects of climate change, from widespread flooding to forest fires, the importance of this type of technology matters more than ever.”
This article is based on a press release from the University of Southampton.