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The University of Southampton
EngineeringPostgraduate study

UAVs to improve safety at sea

Unmanned aircraft could help rescue sailors in trouble far from land.

Work is underway at the University of Southampton to develop spotter planes, which could be sent out to search the seas using infra-red technology and transmit GPS data back to base by satellite. A rescue helicopter could then be deployed quickly to locate the missing boat and bring its crew back to dry land.

Professor Jim Scanlan is leading the team of PhD and postdoctoral students working on this exciting project. "Using UAVs in search and rescue operations could both save lives and cut the costs of these missions," he says. "In time, UAVs will be inexpensive to manufacture, so they could be used in extreme conditions when coastguards would be reluctant to send human beings."

Research student working on wing design
Mario Ferraro

Engineering students from several countries are working on various aspects of this Decision Environments for Complex Designs (DECODE) three year project, which has attracted funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). They are designing the aircraft, researching different designs for the wings, examining aerodynamic issues and devising computer models of search and rescue patterns, before flying the craft at a test site. "This is an exciting real-life project for our students," adds Jim. "The effective use of UAVs could revolutionise search and rescue operations throughout the world."

Research students

Mario Ferraro from Italy: “I’m working on the design of the wings for our UAV, especially the tiperons, which are part of the control systems. It’s good to work in a team on a practical project. You can see whether your designs work when you get to fly the aircraft.”

Jereon van Schaik from the Netherlands: “I’m researching the best way to design the fuselage of the aircraft and drawing up a software tool to record the most efficient methods.”

Srisit Chianrabutra from Thailand: “I’m looking at how to improve the manufacturing process of the aircraft after studying industrial engineering at home. This is a great opportunity for me.”

Marc Bolinches i Gisbert from Spain: “Like Mario [Ferraro], I’m working on the wing design. We’re in competition to come up with the best idea which will be used in the final prototype. I’m using morphing techniques that will change the shape of the wing during flight.”

Meet the team

Some of the talented PhD students  who have come to Southampton to work on this important search-and-rescue project:

Fuselage design
Jeroen van Schaik
Manufacturing process improvement
Srisit Chianrabutra
Wing design
Marc Bolinches i Gisbert
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