Support helps potentially life-changing project take flight

Support helps potentially life-changing project take flight

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Photo: a drone being used for agricultural purposes. | Inset: Edwin Davis.

Using drones to save lives may seem like a futuristic endeavour all but relegated to the confines of sci-fi, but one UQ researcher is making it a reality.

Edwin Davis’s hands-on research into aerodynamics is helping him create smaller, safer, cheaper and more energy-efficient drones that he hopes will be used to make industry, agriculture and search-and-rescue efforts safer.

“The ultimate goal I work towards is that one day when we encounter a burning building or disaster zone and are unsure whether human beings are inside, we won’t have to send rescue teams in blind and risk further casualties,” he said.

“Instead, we can send in a fleet of small, cheap drones to map the area, see if anyone needs to be rescued, assess the risk and direct emergency services straight there.”

Mr Davis said that research for industry often had further reaching applications.

“The work I do for industry may at times seem siloed but it has real applications in helping people and saving lives. For example, currently the only option for closely inspecting large infrastructure and machinery is often to have people in helicopters flying at close proximity – this is dangerous and sometimes fatal work,” Mr Davis said.

“The drones I’m creating are able to respond to wind gusts, are cheaper, and can endure longer trips, making them viable alternatives to helicopters.

“Beyond industry, we can also use this technology in search-and-rescue or immediate medical response,” he said.

Support for early career researchers catalyses innovation, research and discovery.

“We need philanthropic donations because they allow us to work, to cover the things grants won’t. If it wasn’t for philanthropy, our research would not be possible.

“Grants often don’t cover the scope of a project or the equipment necessary to complete the research – so philanthropy fills the gaps.”

Mr Davis’s work in wind and airspeed detection was awarded best paper at the 2016 Australasian Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The talented PhD student said he would not have been able to continue his research without the support of generous donors.

“I was only able to come to UQ to complete my research under Dr Paul Pounds because of a generous gift from Dr Andrew and Mrs Jennifer Brice to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Research Fund.

“My transition to UQ was not covered under any grant or funding, so had philanthropy not stepped in to fill the gap, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my work here,” he said.

“I like the idea of using new technology like drones to help society and decrease the risk to human life during traditionally dangerous but important work roles.”

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