Press release

University aids development of autonomous aircraft technology

Published on 15 September 2020

University of Dundee expertise in high-tech animation and visualisation has helped further the development of next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

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University of Dundee expertise in high-tech animation and visualisation has helped further the development of next-generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Dr Kieran Baxter and colleagues from the 3DVisLab at the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design worked with simulation company Zenotech on a project which emerged from research funded by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA).

Individually, both partners won contracts from DASA earlier this year as two of 21 projects awarded £2.1 million to improve how autonomous vehicles and systems operate in challenging environments. The industry-academia collaboration then emerged from a networking event organised by DASA at which the partners exchanged data from their respective work.

As part of their contribution to the DASA project, Zenotech performed extremely large-scale airflow modelling to characterise the aerodynamic environment around buildings and cityscapes, which are different from the winds experienced by conventional aircraft. This data will provide information for the routing and operation of autonomous air vehicles, effectively and safely offering greater insight into wind conditions.

Dr Baxter, who specialises in interactive visualisation of 3D environment data, led work on a prototype which integrated Zenotech’s airflow simulation with a visualisation interface developed at Dundee. The 3DVisLab developed an immersive interface to improve situational awareness when flying UAVs in complex environments.

Dr Kieran Baxter said, “It is important for us to understand how new generations of data will inform not only autonomous systems but also the human operators behind them. We were privileged to work with Zenotech to demonstrate how their state of the art airflow modelling data can be effectively visualised for the end user. Through our continued collaboration we hope to answer key questions surrounding the implications of emerging UAV technologies.”

The two teams had not met before embarking on the project, and the Covid-19 restrictions necessitated that they exchange data remotely. However, this did not stop them from working together to deliver a new set of results for the programme. These results were presented to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the sponsoring organisation, at the programme’s final review meeting.

James Sharpe, Zenotech lead for big data and security, said, “We are delighted to have participated in this partnership with the University of Dundee to extend the results of our respective DASA-funded projects. The outcomes of this research will help drive forward the next generation of UAVs as well as develop our tech products for new, innovative applications. We look forward to extending this successful collaboration in the future.”


Grant Hill

Senior Public Affairs Officer

+44 (0)1382 384768