Cranfield students compete to counter drone threats

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Cranfield University students triumphed in three out of five categories at a recent BAE Systems-sponsored simulation of a drone ‘swarm attack’.

The multi-university competition at Cranfield Airport, brought together four teams of university students in a game of offence and defence using unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) – commonly known as drones.

The teams from Cranfield University, University of Manchester and University of Strathclyde were challenged to develop the most effective solution to take control of unauthorised drones in a restricted area, known as a ‘swarm attack’.

The scenario was developed based on the real and emerging threats that exist to protect urban spaces, airfields and airports from such incidents.

Increasingly capable, UAV’s are becoming more affordable and easy to source, so there is a need to counter these systems in a robust and affordable manner using innovative solutions.

Cranfield University UAVAttacks could cause damage to aircraft and infrastructure so the scenario created the perfect topical challenge for the students.

The students used a combination of technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, together with innovative thinking and close co-operation between UAVs, to be in with a chance of winning an award in the round robin tournament.

Professor Antonios Tsourdos, Head of the Centre for Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems at Cranfield University, said: “Cranfield University and BAE systems have a long-term relationship having worked closely together on many research projects.

“The BAE Systems Swarm event is a great way of using our global research airport to provide students with the platform to demonstrate some of the innovative ideas which might be applied to solve real-life challenges.”

Cranfield University is one of BAE Systems’ strategic university partners. Collaboration with universities is vital for BAE Systems in developing future technologies and also supporting the next generation of future engineers to get involved in topical and engaging projects to create excitement around engineering.

Professor Nick Colosimo, Principal Technologist at BAE Systems, said: “With autonomy and AI being a vital part of what we do, this challenge offered the perfect blend of exploring the art of the possible while testing the students’ abilities in this important field. In essence, we need to understand what swarming means as a threat and to very carefully consider where it might have appropriate uses.”

The winners:

  • Best offence – Cranfield University, team 1
  • Best all-round performer – Cranfield University, team 1
  • Most entertaining solution – Strathclyde University
  • Best UAV – Cranfield team A
  • Unsung hero – The University of Manchester