Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

CASCADE (Complex Autonomous aircraft Systems Configuration, Analysis and Design Exploratory)

Southampton developed the world’s first rapid prototyped unmanned aircraft under 20 kg MTOM

Project Outline

CASCADE will be a keystone in the current aerial robotics revolution. This programme will reach across a wide range of applications from fundamental earth science through to industry applications in construction, security, transport and information.

There is a chasm between consumer level civilian drone operations and high cost military applications. CASCADE will realise a step change in aerial robotics capability and operations. We will be driven by science and industry problems in order to target fundamental research in five key areas; Integration, Safety, Autonomy, Agility, Capability and Scalability as well as overall project methodology.

In targeting these six areas, CASCADE will free up current constraints on UAV operations, providing case study data, exemplars, guidance for regulation purposes and motivating links across the science and engineering divide. The landscape of aerial robotics is changing rapidly and CASCADE will allow the UK to be at the forefront of this revolution. This rapid change is reflected by the wide range of terminology used to describe aerial robots including; Drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems, and Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS). Supporting technologies driving the aerial robotics revolution include improved battery technologies, actuators, sensors, computing and regulations. These have all significantly expanded the possibilities offered by smart, robust, adaptable, affordable, agile and reliable aerial robotic systems.

There are many environmental challenges facing mankind where aerial robots can be of significant value. Scientists currently use resource intensive research ships and aircraft to study the oceans and the atmosphere. CASCADE will focus on reducing these costs and at the same time increasing capability. Some mission types involve prohibitive risks, such as volcano plume sampling and flight in extreme weather conditions. CASCADE will focus on managing these risks for unmanned systems, operating in conditions where it is not possible to operate manned vehicles.

Similarly, there are many potentially useful commercial applications such as parcel delivery, search and rescue, farming, inspection, property maintenance, where aerial robots can offer considerable cost and capability benefits when compared to manned alternatives. CASCADE will focus on bringing autonomous aerial capabilities to a range of industry applications. For both scientific and industry purposes, CASCADE will consider a range of vehicle configurations from standard rotary and fixed wing through to hybrid and multi modal operations. These will bring unique capabilities to challenging operations for which there is no conventional solution.

At present, because of concerns over safety, there are strict regulations concerning where and how aerial robots can be operated. Permissions for use are granted by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and operations are generally not permitted beyond line of sight, close to infrastructure or large groups of people, or more than 400 feet from the ground. These regulations currently restrict many of the potentially useful applications for aerial robots. CASCADE aims to undertake research into key underpinning technologies that will allow these to be extended or removed by working with regulating authorities to help shape the operating environment for future robotic systems.

CASCADE will prove fundamental research through a wide variety of realistic CASE studies. These will be undertaken with academic and industry partners, focussing on demonstrating key technologies and concepts. These test missions will undertake a wide range of exciting applications including very high altitude flights, aerial robots that can also swim, swarms of sensor craft flying into storms, volcanic plumes and urban flights. Through these CASCADE will provide underpinning research, enable and educate users and widely support the aerial robotics revolution.

Read more about the project HERE


Policy projects

Policy Projects

Find out more about research projects Public Policy|Southampton are currently working with

Are you involved in a research project? Click here
Privacy Settings