Drone Research at the Aerospace Mechatronics Lab

Documents obtained through an access-to-information request to the Department of National Defence (DND) reveal that Prof. Inna Sharf and her team at the Aerospace Mechatronics Lab are conducting research to develop autonomous landing systems for UAVs, under a contract worth $380,000. The technology will contribute to “decisive operations in the urban battle-space” by “providing situational awareness to dismounted soldiers,” the documents state. The project, entitled “Autonomous Support for UAVs,” involves the development of software to enable drones to autonomously land on static and moving targets, such as rooftops and armored personnel carriers. The technology will reduce the workload of dismounted soldiers and improve data collection and surveillance capabilities.

The DND researchers collaborating with McGill propose a strategy for urban warfare reliant on “small, highly maneuverable UAVs” that include armed “strikebots,” indicating that McGill’s research could contribute to weaponized drone technology. DRDC-Suffield, the military research agency responsible for the contract, spells out the nature of the intended application of the research in its request for proposals: “[UAVs] must not compromise operator safety but provide battle-space awareness that provides a force multiplier to the dismounted soldier unit.”

Sharf’s team is using computers from the Centre for Intelligent Machines Laboratory to develop the software. They have conducted flight tests at the Aerospace Mechatronics Laboratory and at Macdonald campus. Sharf suggested the latter location in her bid due to its “secluded open areas.”

Following these revelations in March 2014, Demilitarize McGill held a blockade of the Aerospace Mechatronics Lab lasting nearly four hours. The McGill administration called the police onto campus to end the protest.

In the media: McGill Daily

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