RMIT has joined forces with Australia Advanced Aerospace Technologies (AAAT) to form an incubator and accelerator that will develop unmanned air vehicles (UAVS) for commercial use.
At an official launch of the project at RMIT’s Bundoora East campus, representatives from AAAT, the Chinese Consulate and RMIT were welcomed by Professor Peter Coloe, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Vice-President, College of Science, Engineering and Health.
The event was particularly special for RMIT and the School of Engineering because AAAT was formed by three RMIT alumni while they were completing their PhDs.
Dr Shuai He, Chief Executive Officer of AAAT, Dr Matthew Donough, AAAT, and Dr Khomkrit Pingkarawat, AAAT and RMIT staff, all completed a bachelor and PhD in Aerospace at RMIT.
After graduating, Dr He went to China where he identified a market opportunity for commercial UAVs in China and successfully secured $AUD2 million capital investment to jump-start his new company.
He then returned to Australia to establish a research collaboration with RMIT.
“RMIT is extremely pleased that AAAT has chosen the School of Engineering to assist in key research and development work for their drone technology,” Coloe said.
“What better group of people could you have than alumni that want to come back to their alma mater to work on their research.
“We believe the education they gained at RMIT has prepared them for making AAAT a commercially successful, high-tech and innovative company.”
There has been a significant increase in the use of UAVs over the last decade as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
Drones are a cheaper alternative to helicopters and are regularly used in search and rescue, agriculture, mapping and surveying, security and surveillance, sports and as unmanned cargo systems.
“UAVs have been used for range of important applications in Australia and around the world, with Australia leading in the technology – and RMIT is at the forefront in Australia,” Coloe said.
“RMIT’s leadership includes the design, aerodynamics, height control systems, structural optimisation, manufacturing using advanced composites and light metal alloys, flight test engineering and air safety regulations.
“It’s clear that our research is fundamental, technological and applied.”
Dr Shuai He and his team spent months studying and comparing existing products and undertook market research in China to find out what they need.
“We decided to develop two types of aircraft: one with a 25kg pay load classified as heavy-lift rotary-wing platform intended for applications such as agricultural crop spraying, power-line stringing and external pipeline inspection,” He said.
“The other UAV is a fixed-wing configuration with an 8-hour endurance deployed for surveillance, reconnaissance or data gathering and communication.
“Since we formed this amazing team, we have managed to finish the design phase in five months’ time and with help from RMIT technicians, we are now able to manufacture the design so that we have real products ready for testing in the lab.”
The joint project not only allows AAAT to accelerate the development of their drones to be commercially ready, but allows undergraduate and research students at RMIT to gain real-world research and development experience – supporting RMIT’s aim to enhance the student experience.
“RMIT’s strategic plan is to have its students ready for life and work and this activity is an impressive example of that strategy being realised, as is the development of our alumni,” Coloe said.
“Over 20 students, academic and technical staff are now working with AAAT to ensure the incubator and accelerator is a success – completed on time and on budget.
“With AAAT and RMIT working together in this vibrant research environment – with high-quality expertise, state of art computational design tools and excellent laboratories in composite manufacturing, advanced 3D printing equipment at the Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, aircraft control systems and flight testing – we are confident the project will be a great success.”
Story: Rebecca McGillivray