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Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Drone in a blue sky

Autonomous systems

We develop innovative scientific methods that lead to technologies requiring minimal human intervention.

Autonomous systems are used for a variety of purposes including performing remote tasks in hazardous environments and remote sensing.

They need to interact with an unknown, unstructured environment and need to sense and decide upon unexpected events that they encounter while performing their planned tasks.

Research focus

We are experts in this field and cover all aspects related to autonomous systems in a range of environments.

Some specific areas we focus on are:

  • Unmanned aerial vehicles icon

    Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

    UAVs are increasingly becoming popular in surveillance and exploration applications. UAVs are flying vehicles that are automatically controlled to perform a certain set of tasks independent of user intervention. Examples of common UAV platforms include unmanned small helicopters, unmanned quad-rotor vehicles and unmanned fixed wing aeroplanes.

  • Unmanned underwater vehicles icon

    Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUGs)

    UUVs are vehicles which operate underwater with minimal or no interaction with a base ship or with the shore. Applications include undersea exploration, the detection of pollution in rivers, exploration of ice-shelves in Antarctica and the mapping of large scale, liquid-based industrial processes.

  • Unmanned ground vehicles icon

    Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs)

    UGVs operate on the ground and drive without operator assistance. Such ground vehicles can interact with the environment and manipulate objects as they can exert considerable forces on the environment. Burrowing vehicles, which support the investigation of subsurface phenomena, can also be considered a sub-set of UGVs.

Research highlights

Common issues for autonomous systems include propulsion, control and sensing, supporting hardware and software designs, and autonomy algorithms and cognitive processes. Higher level strategies for surveillance, mapping and exploration are also important, as are techniques that combine data from a variety of sensors to enable a detailed description of an environment or phenomenon to be constructed. This research is about creating supporting technologies for the above types of vehicles.

Our researchers develop autonomous systems for real-world industrial applications. We work with unmanned vehicles that operate in all the above three domains. We explore new sensing technologies, novel vehicle platforms, new control strategies, new cognitive algorithms, power management and optimisation, and methods and tools for perception, abstraction, path-planning and decision making.

Research partnerships have been established with BAE Systems, National Nuclear Laboratory, North West Aerospace Alliance, Rolls-Royce, and Roke Manor Research. Achievements include intelligent agent-based energy-management and autonomous mission re-planning and autonomous robots being developed for nuclear decommissioning applications through the £20m Dalton Cumbrian Facility, which is now a National Nuclear User Facility.

Watch some of our robotic demos: