Drone technology used for radiation detection

Drone technologies and their importance as platforms for testing new flight-ready sensor concepts have been growing. Such practice is beneficial for aerial surveys, supporting defence and heritage projects in the development of detailed 3D models from aerial video. 

A recent collaboration between researchers and students from the Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering and the Nuclear Physics Research Group has developed this technology further. Using a bGeigie Nano Geiger Counter and the latest quadcopter technology, the potentials of both thermal and radiation detection from the air have been explored. Such activities support the fusion and visualisation of 3D geometrical and topographical maps with sensor-based data.

Using a variety of 3D visualisation techniques, with guidance from the Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Team specialists, the Nuclear Physics students were able to develop examples of 3D radiation data visualisation, including accurate intensity measurements and spatial locations of the deployed samples.  

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The HIT Team’s homeland security research projects for the Ministry of Defence, and mixed reality command and control research projects will benefit from the results of these early projects. Demonstrating how real-world sensor data – which is obtained from sensor packages on board unmanned systems – can be integrated into future interactive display systems will be beneficial to present users with informative 3D visualisations of evolving incidents. It will also help develop another defence application which relates to the concept of the ‘sacrificial drone’, a small, unmanned air vehicle which is deployed from a more sophisticated, higher-altitude aerial platform. Such a vehicle would be designed to fly over a small area to collect video and, consequently, 3D map data, as well as up-to-the-minute sensor-based intelligence. This information is transmitted back to the mother platform before losing power and crashing, self-destructing, or being shot down. Similar applications are anticipated to be of considerable interest to the nuclear industry, and to search and rescue organisations responding to major natural or man-made incidents.

The project has now inspired both teams to work closely together in the future and to develop new ideas in remote radiation detection and visualisation for research funding.