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Spring 2018

Inquiry Magazine Archive


Up in the Cloud

Wan wins $998,803 grant to develop UAV computing platform 

Drones flying in the sky

From snapping photos to delivering packages, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have a variety of civilian applications. But they have not yet been recognized as movable computing devices, capable of communicating with other UAVs to achieve time-critical missions. A UTA electrical engineer plans to change that.

Associate Professor Yan Wan is leading a team that is creating a networked airborne computing platform that facilitates multiple UAVs to conduct distributed computing tasks. She earned a three-year, $998,803 grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.

Currently, multiple UAVs could be used to "stitch" videos together during emergency operations. But to achieve that, they must be flown back to base—where an operator can download the photos, videos, or readings—before being sent out again. Such a time lag could be detrimental to an emergency response mission. A networked aerial computing system, on the other hand, would allow operators to download fused information from UAV networks and respond in real-time, and would increase the vehicles' ability to share information with each other for safer control in flight.

The platform Dr. Wan's team is developing would help researchers in a variety of fields build upon current and future UAV technology, enabling the use of networked UAVs for civilian applications like emergency response, cargo transportation, and infrastructure monitoring.

"There are so many applications for UAVs that we are in urgent need of a generic platform to facilitate testing and building upon new technology," Wan explains. "Our system provides a timing solution with a modular design and features such as flexibility and extensibility to new developments."

Wan, who joined UTA in 2016, received a NSF CAREER award in 2015 and has earned more than $4 million in research funding.

Illustration by John Lund

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