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UND tests new UAV technology

UND's unmanned aircraft engineering team began a series of flight tests Wednesday at Camp Grafton, including tests of a new technology that could help integrate such aircraft into commercial airspace, where they are now restricted.

UND's unmanned aircraft engineering team began a series of flight tests Wednesday at Camp Grafton, including tests of a new technology that could help integrate such aircraft into commercial airspace, where they are now restricted.

This would be the first in-air test of the "sense and avoid" system developed by Machine Visionaries, according to Florent Martel, the chief executive and an electrical engineering graduate student.

One component of the system senses the presence of a transponder on another aircraft; all commercial aircraft must carry transponders that broadcast their identity and location. Another component then automatically steers the unmanned aircraft away from a collision course.

Unmanned aircraft usually have very poor situational awareness, in part because cameras are no replacement for a pilot looking out the windshield to see if there's an approaching aircraft. When an unmanned aircraft shares airspace with a manned aircraft, the danger of collision is higher than if two unmanned aircraft share space, which is why the federal government restricts unmanned aircraft to small, specialized blocks of airspace.

One of those blocks of airspace is over Camp Grafton's southern section, near McHenry, N.D.

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The UND team is using a SuperHauler, a remote-controlled plane with a 12-foot wingspan that can haul 30 pounds of gear, according to its maker, Bruce Tharpe Engineering of Rogue River, Ore.

Besides Machine Visionaries' system, according to Martel, the aircraft also hauls a digital camera system that measures the health of crops based on how much infrared light and another camera system used to research ways to enhance images.

The UND team plans to conduct more flight tests today.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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