University of Michigan’s outdoor drone lab on the run

ANN ARBOR, Michigan. – A special outdoor area for the testing of autonomous aerial vehicles has taken flight at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Researchers hosted a “demo day” on Wednesday, the $800,000 four-story netted complex that is known as the “M-Air.”

The 50-metre-high, 9,600-square-foot facility and allows the students to come out and fly, something that just fits in it,” said aerospace engineering professor Ella Atkins.

Only three weeks old, M-Air features a pavilion with space for up to 25 people. The ground in the nets is dirty, but in the end the grass. Adjustable lighting will M-Air usable in the evening.

And, if Michigan Robotics director Jessy Grey points out, it can be used in all kinds of weather conditions.

“We will be able to test drones in the wind and the rain and the snow and the sleet and the hail and the dark night,” he said.

Outdoor drone flights on the campus are required to go through a formal university approval process due to safety concerns about the interference with the hospital helicopters and other aircraft. But flights within the M-Air-space be considered within and don’t require that level of approval.

“It really is a good idea for the universities, both in education and research to be done without danger for the people in the neighborhood,” Atkins said.

Autonomous aerial vehicles can be used in many ways, including surveying disaster sites, inspection of bridges and wind turbines, the collection of environmental and atmospheric data, and the delivery of packages, according to researchers.

Michigan is not the only university in the U.S., a private drone test facility, but it is in accordance with the school, the desire to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

M-Air is not far from Mcity, a simulated urban and suburban environment in which academic and industry researchers testing autonomous and connected vehicles. The university is also the home of the Marine Hydrodynamics Lab, where a 360-metre-long indoor body of water that is used for testing the robot and conventional vessels, and the Space Physics Research lab develops and tests robotic spacecraft.

M-Air is funded by the Michigan Engineering and the U-M Office of Research.

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