Hawaii researchers strive to make drones more efficient, reliable, and easy to use

Local News

Drones will soon be busy doing more than just taking pretty pictures.

KHON2 met with the Tim Ralston, the director of unmanned aerial systems at the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii (ARL/UH) to find out more about their plan to make drones operate more independently, and the real world application for the technology they were planning on developing.

“We can put them to use in fire situations, in public safety, in public health in sea coast erosion, in environmental studies, invasive species, the spread of rhinoceros beetle,” Ralston said.

KHON2 also spoke with Ken Kaneshiro, the program director for the Center for Conservation Research and Training at UH to find out how the technology could help with environmental issues.

“[The] one project that we’re focused on is the Ala Wai watershed. Our vision is really to make it so the Ala Wai Canal… you can swim in it and fish in it, all kinds of recreational uses again. It’s a big vision,” Kaneshiro said. “With [the] application of technologies like UAVs, we have the possibility of accomplishing that goal.”

The uses for the new drone technology are limitless, but in order to really make a difference, drones need to be smarter.

“Drones can do some of that now, some of the program mission capability, but in the near future there’s going to a greater degree of autonomy,” Mike Elliott of Drone Services Hawaii said.

The university will use a $750-thousand grant from NASA to do exactly that, make drones more efficient, reliable, and easier to use.

Ralston talked more about the technology they are developing.

“The drones become more self-managed, more mission oriented and less dependent on the person, therefore we can get by with lower training levels. We can get quicker into operation get the benefits down to the users sooner,” Ralston explains. “What we’re talking about is technology that would allow the drone to do the mission itself.”

For more information about drones and the laws that apply to drone usage visit: https://www.faa.gov/uas/

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