We are involved in developing new technologies for small commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

Key Facts

    • AIRSTART is a collaborative £3.2 million project led by Airbus Group Innovations. Running until December 2017, it involves a number of stakeholders including SMEs and other research institutions.

    • We are developing new hybrid power system technologies for small to medium UAS (unmanned aerial systems).

  • Funded by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).
Aegis UAV

Impact of our research

UAS (unmanned aerial systems) are expected to share a significant part of our airspace in the future, operating together with manned aircraft. Historically the main use of UAS has been through military applications. However, more recently, with the acceleration in the growth of the civilian market covering areas such as cargo transport, aerial mapping search and rescue, and border patrol, there is huge market potential for creating new vehicles and platforms.

The European Commission predicts there will be some 150,000 UAS-related jobs in Europe, excluding service provision, by 2050 and the UK is already well placed in this market.

AIRSTART UAV design diagram
Aegis diagram

Why the research was commissioned

The project, AIRSTART (Accelerated Integration of Reliable Small UAV systems Through Applied Research and Testing), seeks to drive UK leadership in small commercial UAS (lighter than 150kgs) by overcoming major barriers to growth.

The barriers are mainly the lack of affordable, lightweight, sense and avoid and fast and secure, communications technology required to enable its safe operation ‘Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS)’, as well as increased endurance. This will be achieved through research and development in new technologies that also have applications in manned aviation and space sectors.

We are testing novel hybrid power systems and laser communication systems as part of the AIRSTART project.

Why Cranfield?

We are already known for our expertise in unmanned and autonomous systems. Working with project partners Western Power Distribution and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), core technologies will be validated through a series of small UAS flight trials before potential use on both land and sea.

A UAV called Aegis could be used for the flight test trials to test the novel hybrid power systems and laser communication systems developed as part of the AIRSTART project. This UAV platform is currently being modified in our Centre for Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems to test new technologies.

Facilities used

The UAV Laboratory