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Piggybacking drones, of course, says boss of new £1.25m lab

A £1.25m lab for testing drones that can swim and carry 3D printers will be built at Imperial College London's South Kensington campus.

An artist's impression of what the lab will look like.

The facilities will research a range of applications for drones from repair work in the nuclear, oil, gas, and energy sectors to their use in search-and-rescue operations and wildlife conservation.

Applications for unmanned aircraft in the UK could be worth £7bn per year in the short term, according to a report b by aerospace and defence consulting company Teal Group.

Dr Mirko Kovac, director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at the university, told The Register that now is a good time to invest in drones, as businesses are likely to ramp up their commercial investments once regulations underpinning their use come into force next year.

In the UK it is prohibited to fly drones over densely populated areas - but further regulations are expected as to how drones may fly over these spaces.

Widespread availability of GPS and smartphone technology also makes it a viable area to invest in, he said.

He said the university hoped to gain around £1m in research grants over the next couple of years to fund a small team of researcher. "We are also looking for investment and industrial collaboration," he said.

The facility is being funded by an alumnus of the university, Brahmal Vasudevan, founder of one of Malaysian private equity firm Creador.

The lab will consist of a two storey laboratory and workshop, hosted by the City and Guilds building, on its roof.

The building will include 16 high speed 3D aerial tracking cameras that will wirelessly control how the robots will fly and also record their flight dynamics and eight 3D tracking cameras positioned in a water tank, to test aerial robots as they dive into and swim through the water.

The workshops will also have 3D printers and laser micromachining equipment.

Construction of the facilities will begin in 2016. ®

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