Impressed by the talent of a group of engineering undergraduates who won top honours at an international competition for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), US aerospace major Lockheed Martin announced Tuesday it would fund their efforts to create a new generation machine that would have civilian and military applications.
"Here is a group of students who are undergraduates and have worked on a technology they don't even have classes on," said Ray O. Johnson, Lockheed Martin senior vice president and chief technology officer, while announcing the company would ink a deal with the Delhi Technology University (DTU), to which the 10 students belong.
"We will provide the broad parameters of the design requirements to be implemented by the students," he added.
While congratulating the students, Johnson said: "This partnership is one more example of Lockheed Martin's long-term commitment to India and the partnerships which we seek to develop and nurture."
The company will provide the student group with Lockheed Martin-generated design space to structure their efforts. The team will be required to make an initial design and then develop a flying prototype - with the drones hopefully going into production by the Commonwealth Games in October 2010.
"These will be ideal vehicles for carrying out aerial surveillance at the Games' venues and also for controlling traffic," P.B. Sharma, the vice chancellor of the DTU, which was previously known as the Delhi College of Engineering (DCE).
Sharma, along with other DTU faculty, had guided the 10 students who won the director's award for the best team effort for demonstrating a successful flight of a UAV at the 2009 Association of Unmanned Vehicles System International (AUVSI) Student Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) competition.
Explaining the salient features of the new UAV, Rochak Chadha, a third year student of electronics and communications engineering, said the effort would be to increase its endurance to 10 hours from an hour the existing machine can stay aloft.
"It will also run on an electric motor against the present petrol engine, we will downsize the autopilot and change the camera system for greater resolution and clarity," Chadha added.
Speaking about what motivated the team to start work on the existing craft, Chadha said: "Technology for UAV's is woefully lacking and the defence forces have to import these from Israel. We wanted to work on the ultimate level of robotics and to create something that was commercially viable."
"The global UAV market is currently estimated at $3.4 billion and has the potential to rise to $7 billion in 10 years," he added.
Asked if the defence ministry has been approached for potential purchase of the UAV, Sharma replied: "The defence ministry and ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) are aware of our capabilities. But more than that, there is tremendous potential for the machine in the civilian sector."