The University of Michigan has recently celebrated the grand opening of their “M-Air fly lab” which is essentially a high tech playground for students to use unmanned autonomous vehicles. The outdoor drone-testing area has been in the works since last year and is now open to university students.
The drone facility consists of 50-foot high ceilings and has a total of 9,600 square feet. This large area can allow for up to 25 people to use drones at once and was designed based on the university’s aerospace research building.
Ella Atkins, professor of aerospace engineering expressed excitement at the new opportunities students and staff will have with the new $800,000 facility.
“With the addition, we can pursue research projects with all of the natural elements and without worrying about the drones flying away and us losing control,” explained Atkins. “It will allow us and our students to explore all the things we dream of doing with autonomous aerial vehicles.”
Before the facility was built, UM students and researchers were just starting to explore potential uses for autonomous aerial vehicles. With the e-commerce revenue totaling about $423.3 billion and climbing, retailers are trying to find ways to adjust to the industry, including drone use. UM researchers were looking into ways to use drones for things like deliveries, inspections, and surveying disaster sites. And now with this new facility, they can expand their research.
Students will frequently come up with ideas for things like UAV control systems, autonomous deliveries, and stabilization algorithms. And because the facility is technically outdoors, it allows students to test their drone innovation in real weather conditions, compared to other labs that require stimulated wind and rain.
“I think we will be able to test a much broader range of weather conditions that can be done at most of the facilities in the U.S.,” Jessy Grizzle, UM Director of Robotics explained.
The outdoor facility is technically considered an indoor facility due to the protective netting. Because of this, M-Air flights don’t need to go through the standard UM outdoor drone flight approval procedures. These procedures are in place due to concerns of interference with other aircraft. Without needing to go through these procedures, students will have fewer restrictions on what flight tests they perform.
With the FAA predicting there to be seven million drones in use in America by 2020, more and more people are finding ways to use these UAVs. While previous UM student research with drones focused on more residential tasks, the new facility will open doors for bigger and better plans. Already, students have demonstrated the ability of drones to collect risk assessment data for natural disasters, forecast weather patterns, and complete a variety of delivery types.
UM students and staff are excited about the new facility, the convenience of the setup, and the opportunities they now have with their drone technology research.