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NSIRC195 PhD Studentship (Sponsored by TWI Ltd) – Multimodal Drones for Remote Inspection of Inaccessible Surfaces

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Institution: National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC)
PhD Industrial Supervisor: Georgios Asfis
Application Deadline: Open throughout the year
Funding Availability: Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

To date, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) are limited to purely visual camera inspections – very few UAVs exist capable of deploying NDT sensors (ultrasonic, eddy current, GPR) at altitude on vertical surfaces and they all acquire point measurements
Penetrating NDT techniques such as ultrasound normally require stable contact with the surface, which means that the UAV needs to smoothly move while a component of it smoothly touches the surface to deploy the NDT probes and make measurements to detect internal defects such as cracks, corrosion, etc. Achieving such agility for drone technology requires multiple advances in the following key areas: aerodynamics for flight in close proximity to fixed surfaces; distance and 3D force measurement from the contact area; novel autonomous dynamic flight control system to cope with the former and take in to account the later to achieve smooth and safe handling in close proximity to objects.

Project Outline
The research will advance the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles deployed for accessing and surveillance of tall structures by flying to and “touching” payload-carrying UAVs on remote, unprepared, high vertical surfaces such as chimneys, wind turbine blades, bridges or tower block curtain walls where they can manoeuvre to carry out missions such as surveillance or inspection.
The research will investigate novel aerodynamic solutions providing stability while flying in contact to UAVs in many hitherto excluded application fields, particularly remote NDT. Simulation studies with CFD will be used to optimise the aerodynamic model of existing COTS aircraft. A novel NDT probe payload carrying mechanism will be designed to attach to a COTS UAV platform and allow constant contact at as range of UAV attitudes. The mechanism will be instrumented to provide distance from the surface and force measurements. The resulting UAV prototype will require advanced embedded control engineering to fly autonomously and to attain the desired closeness to the vertical structure.
The main novelty lies in development of a novel flight control system to allow the UAV smooth flight while an NDT sensor is touching the surface of a structure:
Would the NDT carrying mechanism work where the wall surface is not flat or is partly porous?
Will close proximity flying to a vertical wall be possible when the coupled aerodynamics of the UAV in the vicinity of the target wall are likely to be highly unsteady and subject to gusting, turbulence, and unpredictable wind loading?
Where will payload/sensors be mounted on the prototype device?

The proposed research can lead to potential new lines of investigation in contact UAV flight and intelligent autonomous flight control systems.

About Industrial Sponsor
TWI is a world leading research and technology organisation. Over 800 staff give impartial technical support in welding, joining, materials science, structural integrity, NDT, surfacing and packaging. Services include generic research, confidential R&D, technical information, technology transfer, training and qualification.

NSIRC is a state-of-the-art postgraduate engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI, working closely with lead academic partner Brunel University, top UK and International Universities and a number of leading industrial partners. NSIRC aims to deliver cutting edge research and highly qualified personnel to its key industrial partners.

About University
Brunel University London

Candidate Requirements
Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree. Candidates with suitable work experience and strong capacity in numerical modelling and experimental skills are particularly welcome to apply. Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.

Funding Notes

Funding Notes
This project is funded by TWI and academic partners. The studentship will provide successful Home/EU students with a minimum stipend of £16k/year and will cover the cost of tuition fees. Overseas applicants are welcome to apply, with total funding capped at £24k/year.

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