UC Merced deploy unmanned aerial vehicles

FRESNO, Calif.

Flying these robots is serious business for U.C. Merced students, but they admit it's also a lot of fun.

Brendan smith, a U.C. Merced student, said, "it's something I look forward to coming to every single day, and it's not even like I have to be here, it's because I want to be here and I choose to be here."

18 undergraduate researchers are now working with unmanned aerial vehicles in their lab -- which just opened in August at the university's building near castle airport.

The UAV's are operated by remote control, but the goal is to put them on auto-pilot.

Lab Manager Brandon Stark said, "If we are flying with manual control we may have some fluctuations in our flight path, and it's very hard to keep a straight line flying manual control. With an autonomous system, we are able to specify, let's go in this straight line, turn here, and come back here, maintaining a constant altitude."

The aircraft can be equipped with special sensors and cameras that serve a variety of purposes. This one is linked to goggles that move the lens wherever the user looks. The professor who runs the lab says the technology could help valley farmers in the near future.

Professor Yang Quan Chen of U.C. Merced said, "Say for example, they can use UAV's as a flying sensor to detect water stress of the crops or even the pests or nutrients."

And that's not all. Some state leaders expect UAV's to be used for everything from wildfire management and disaster relief to pollution and traffic monitoring in the years ahead.

Stark said, "This is what engineering is all about. It isn't just about throwing together a mathematical model, but it's really about putting everything together and making it work, something that not only works, but people actually want this type of technology in the future."

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