Chemical-test drone tested by university

The Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center may help the University of Nevada, Reno, foster more business partnerships like the one it has with Nevada Nanotech Systems Inc., a 10-year-old spin-off from the school’s research labs.

With a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Army the pair are testing an unmanned autonomous vehicle developed at UNR in a project headed by Kam Leang, mechanical engineering associate professor, which will be equipped with a chemical-sensing sensor developed by Nevada Nano. The applications for such a device are varied, from detecting chemical weapons in advance of troop deployments to checking for toxic fumes before sending first responders into a disaster area.

“Our technology is well-suited to that kind of thing. There’s a lot of analytical capability in a small package,” says Ben Rogers, principal engineer with Nevada Nano in Sparks. “If you could you would fly around a whole lab, but that would take a 747.”

Instead, Nevada Nano and UNR are about to begin testing the small flying robot, tethered to an operator, on university grounds. The sensor, which at this point is too large for the UAV, is being tested in the lab separately. This first phase of demonstrating the two technologies will continue until July.

Once the sensor has been reduced to a size small enough to attach to the UAV, the partners will begin a second phase of testing sometime next year, says Rogers, of the UAV with the sensor attached. A third test phase would be used to produce a final, production-ready product.

Anne Knowles


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