NevadaNano and University of Utah Robotics Center Complete First Demonstration of Autonomous Aerial Chemical Detection System


NevadaNano announced that the US Army has awarded the company and the University of Utah’s DARC Lab the next round of funding for the ‘Autonomous Broad Spectrum Environmental Sentinels’ Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programme, which started in 2014. The new funding was awarded after the partners successfully demonstrated an autonomous aerial robot with onboard chemical sensing.

For the demonstration in June, NevadaNano redesigned their Molecular Property Spectrometer™ (MPS) system to sense multiple chemicals in a small, 110-gram package. The University of Utah developed an advanced quadcopter aerial robot with up to 40-minute flight times. The robot includes LIDAR object sensing for collision avoidance, precision GPS with programmable waypoints for autonomous flight through a course at programmed altitudes, and auto take-off and auto landing capabilities. In the current project phase, the team demonstrated the aerial system flying to a suspected chemical plume, measuring the presence of hazardous gases and automatically mapping the gas plume in an interactive map on a wirelessly connected ground computer.

In the next phase of the programme, NevadaNano will improve the chemical sensor to handle a broader library of chemicals at increased sensitivities. The University of Utah will add functions for drone-to-drone communications, swarming, and automated area search so that a fleet of drones can be launched to quickly detect and map a chemical plume with minimal input from the operator.

The rapid advancement of flying robots is enabling applications in military reconnaissance, surveillance, law enforcement, hazardous waste inspection/removal, disaster response, search and rescue, and remote sensing. The Army anticipates that the technology developed in this programme will be used for detecting and mapping a variety of chemicals, including air pollutants, toxic chemical leaks and spills, chemical plumes from fires, pesticides, biological agents, and chemical warfare agents.