Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Center launched in Tennessee

By Ann Bailey | January 14, 2016

Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has established an Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Center.

Scientists at the UAS center have equipment and information available to do a variety of research for customers in a variety of sectors including energy, security and agriculture, said Rick Lusk, UASRC director and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Data System Sciences and Engineering Group leader.

Researchers at ORNL have operated UAS for the past several years and have the tools to develop and put sensors on the unmanned aircraft, Lusk said. The creation of the UASRC consolidates the research projects under way at the ORNL and gives the center exposure to the UAS industry, he said.

Creation of the UASRC will “show these people we have a sophisticated population, data analytics and we have been flying these things for a long time,” Lusk said.

“We’re a trusted broker,” he said. “We can advance the state of the state.”

Four thousand scientists work at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the largest scientific research center in the world, he said.  Meanwhile, ORNL is home to some of the fastest super computers in the world, he added.

Scientists at the UASRC can give information to customers on what is possible in the near term and long-term, Lusk said.

“We want to research engineering and development… we want to take sensors and the analytics associated with them (UAS) and make them more than flying cameras.”  For example, one potential UAS application is to have a UAS, equipped with a camera that is a combination of hyperspecteral and multispecteral, fly low and slow over stagnant bodies of water in Africa, Lusk said. The camera mounted on the UAS would identify possible malaria-bearing larvae types, then, a UAS or manned aircraft flying behind the UAS would spray that body of water.

“I don’t think that is Buck Rogers,” Lusk said, adding that using the UAS with the camera also would have applications for wildfires. A lead UAS with sensors, for example, would identify the wild fires and a manned aircraft or UAS flying behind would spray a fire retardant to douse the flames.

Still another potential UAS application, this time for search and rescue operations, is for a lifeguard at a beach to deploy a UAS carrying a “floatie” device to a struggling swimmer, Lusk said. The UAS could reach the swimmers more quickly than the lifeguard and save precious minutes before the lifeguard covers the distance.

“These are the kind of applications that I think are all possible in the short term,” Lusk said. And the UASRC is available to conduct the research that will help make them a reality, he said.