UC Test Range enabling new drone technology

16 September 2016

UC's Spatial Engineering Research Centre is helping to lead the way in the development of drones for industry, due to the activation of a new test range for UAVs.

UC Test Range enabling new drone technology

The first official flight at the UC Test Range for UAVs on the south-west side of Banks Peninsula.

The University of Canterbury’s (UC) Spatial Engineering Research Centre is helping to lead the way in the development of drones for industry, due to the activation of a new test range for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In 2015, the Spatial Engineering Research Centre (SERC) was awarded nearly 100 square kilometres of airspace, located on the south-west side of Banks Peninsula, by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be used as a segregated airspace UAV test range.  In July this year, after many months of preparation, the test range was activated for the first time.

SERC Senior research engineer Kelvin Barnsdale says the need for this test range was driven by the development of ‘beyond line of sight’ drone technology and subsequent regulatory issues.

“Drones have moved from a toy to an industry tool and are becoming much more capable of flying themselves. To regulate this, we have been working with the CAA to develop new rules for operating drones, which came into effect in August 2015.

“However, one of the enduring limitations of the new rules requires drones to be used within line of sight of the pilot. The CAA doesn’t call these unmanned aerial vehicles – they treat them as remotely piloted, which is a significant difference. So to test new airborne technology that goes beyond line of sight, we needed a segregated test range.”

The test range is a block of restricted airspace that, when activated, legally excludes any other aircraft in that area. Crucially this allows SERC to fly drones above the regulation 400 feet and beyond line of sight under special conditions.

Mr Barnsdale says this enables researchers and industry partners, in New Zealand and abroad, to test and verify UAV technology at high altitudes in a safe environment – the only restricted airspace in New Zealand for this purpose.

“We are currently working with New Zealand industry and exploring partnerships with organisations in Australia, the US and Europe due to their specialisation in beyond line of sight technology.

“This covers a range of uses, from structure inspections and agricultural intelligence-gathering, to marine biology surveys and the development of search and rescue drones in a marine environment. We are also currently using the test range for instrument trials, working towards the use of drones for high altitude atmospheric research over the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.”

Aeronavics Technology Development Manager Edwin Hayes says opportunities for testing new technologies are critical for developers of high end UAV solutions.  

“Challenging operations such as flights ‘Beyond Line of Sight’ can only be fully tested with access to segregated airspace. Aeronavics expects to use the test site for investigating a wide range of UAV applications, including in the important precision agriculture sector, as it continues to collaborate with UC.  

“Since the number of locations worldwide suitable for such testing is limited, the site provides the New Zealand UAV industry a competitive advantage, as well as making the university a great place to base UAV research."

The first official flight was made by a New Zealand made Aeronavics NAVI to a height of 1000 feet above ground. The flight, including the landing, was fully automated and monitored by a chase drone at lower levels.

To watch the inaugural flight, please click here

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
Tweet UC @UCNZ and follow UC on Facebook

UC core

New Te Hāpai Ō | UC Live Speaker Series focuses on wellbeing in lockdown

The University of Canterbury aims to support people’s wellbeing during the Covid-19 lockdown, livestreaming a weekly speaker series, on a different ...

Team Kayem

UC student event planners innovate in time of change

University of Canterbury (UC) students challenged to create a “non-contact” event for the Covid-19 environment have come up with an online careers hub ...