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EASTBIO Developing autonomous UAV for precision farming

PHD Opportunities

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Dr A Hamilton , Dr C Nichol No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A recent report estimated that UAV (drones) will contribute £42bn annually to the UK GDP by 2030. UAV are being integrated into farming practices (primarily arable, and mainly in research roles) as part of a drive towards precision agriculture, to increase production efficiency, reduce inputs, and decrease environmental impacts. UAV provide significant benefits, being able to fly in weather conditions that may obscure satellites, can be deployed quickly and cover a field in minutes, and provide very high resolution data. However, the use of UAV in the expanding farm sensor network is currently limited by the requirement for human oversight (although autonomous UAV have been developed overseas for mining operations, including automated landing pads and chargers). Given the pace of technological development however, it is a question of when, not if, autonomous UAV are developed for the agricultural sector. This is a logical area in which to push such development, being primarily away from human habitation and sensitive infrastructure. An added benefit is that such development would also enable the same UAV system to carry out other tasks in the countryside, such as habitat/species surveying, or river surveys and flood mapping.

A key first step in this project will be a comprehensive review of recent and ongoing development and innovations, to identify precise areas that are already being addressed This will narrow down the scope of the areas on which this project will focus (to avoid parallel development), and enable the following broad objectives to be addressed:

1. develop and test the technical capacity for safe and effective autonomous UAV operations;
2. develop the data management processes so that sensed data can be utilised effectively;
3. work with the regulatory body, the CAA, and relevant industry to identify barriers to legalised use, and determine an operational use case;
4. following the above, be instrumental in pushing the technological and regulatory pathway for the adoption of autonomous UAV.

Over the three years of this project, the first three objectives listed above will be pursued in parallel. Objective 1 will focus on the development of existing IOMS (Intelligent Operational Management System) to enable assimilation of relevant key data (e.g. weather information), mission prioritisation, and inflight decision-making. Much of this will require bench-testing of IOMS in simulated flight conditions, but the target will be actual autonomous flights (although with a human pilot still in ultimate control). Objective 2 will address the issues in data management – automating data download from the sensors on the UAV (although this project will not address how such data will actually be used). Objective 3 will focus on liaison with the CAA to develop an Operational Safety Case for further development and trials. The results will be brought together into objective 4, which will develop proposals for the technological and regulatory developments necessary, and signpost a regulatory and guidance route map towards eventual autonomous UAV use. This project will therefore make a substantial contribution towards enabling autonomous UAV in agriculture.

Applicants should download the required forms from and send the following documents to [Email Address Removed]:
a. EASTBIO Application Form
b. EASTBIO DTP Equality Form
c. CV
d. Academic transcripts (a minimum of an upper second class or first class honours degree or equivalent is required for PhD study
e. Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to [Email Address Removed].
f. If you are nominated by the supervisor(s) of the EASTBIO PhD project you wish to apply for, they will provide a Supervisor Support Statement.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (Please state if your institution will provide funding to cover the difference in fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.


Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to
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