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29th September 2011

Engineers first to study drone design

Students on the masters course at Southampton are the first to be taught how to design unmanned aerial vehicles

Engineers at Southampton University are to teach students how to design drones, starting this month.

The masters course is the first of its kind to teach the design of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones. According to the prospectus, students who take the masters in Unmanned Vehicle Systems Design ‘will be able to design and build a sophisticated unmanned system in the course of their studies.’ The course currently has 12 students enrolled, but expects to expand to 20 in a few years.

Despite drones having gained notoriety in recent years for their use in the ‘War on Terror’, the university insists that UAVs have other, more peaceful, applications. ‘We are studying non-military applications and that’s where the big growth will be,’ said Prof. Jim Scanlan, one of the course directors, who compared the drones to GPS technology, which was developed for the military but gains most of its revenue from satellite navigation systems.

The planes’ autopilot allows inexperienced pilots to control them and this has created interest in several fields. Apart from their usefulness for aerial photography and scientific research, their near-silent ‘cruise mode’ makes the planes ideal for wildlife filming, and the university has even been contacted by a Namibian gaming park looking to track its cheetahs.


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