Keith Hautala


College: Agriculture, Food and Environment

Kentucky Launches Unmanned Systems Research Consortium

Published: Dec 18, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 18, 2013) — The University of Kentucky has announced the formation of an Unmanned Systems Research Consortium (USRC) to advance unmanned aerial, ground and underwater systems, and to explore commercial applications for the technology in Kentucky. 


Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology has increasingly captured private-sector interest — as well as the public's imagination and news headlines — over the past year, with prospective applications being developed in agriculture, remote sensing, materials transport, forest fire detection, weather surveillance, mine exploration and minerals production, search and rescue, and even point-to-point delivery of small consumer items.


John Walz, dean of the UK College of Engineering, announced the USRC's launch at a Kentucky summit on unmanned aerial systems, held Dec. 11 in Lexington. The USRC will partner faculty, students and businesses to focus on development and performance evaluation of systems, platforms, components, sensors, and software, in addition to sharing resources for increasing statewide industry awareness and understanding national directions and policies. 


"This is exactly the kind of scenario where everybody wins," Walz said. "Our researchers are able to make significant strides and then pass on the fruit of their labor to businesses, who give feedback and introduce new problems to solve — it’s a loop that enhances research and has real-world implications."


The consortium includes affiliated faculty from the College of Engineering as well as a diversity of academic disciplines across campus, and it boasts a 1,200-square-foot laboratory with in-house manufacturing and access to high precision machining.


Capabilities include custom platform design for payload requirements including remote piloted and fully autonomous control, electric, nitro-methane and gas propulsion systems, a unique mobile LiDAR 3-D scanning truck that can rapidly capture high-quality, geo-registered 3‑D point cloud data at a large scale, multiple in-house options for 3-D printing, PCB fabrication and rapid prototyping, complete composite fabrication from mold-making to custom carbon-fiber lay-ups, low-turbulence and custom wind tunnel test facilities, and commercial autopilots.


Walz said consortium partners will benefit from being able to work directly with faculty experts, as well as meeting hopeful future employees from among the student body. And to ensure that consortium partners have a deep talent pool to choose from, he said, the College of Engineering is working diligently to increase its number of graduates.


"It’s a need that has been recognized by Lexington mayor Jim Gray, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, myself and many others," Walz said. "As we graduate more well-trained engineers and put them to work, businesses will benefit, the commonwealth will benefit and Kentucky will become a leader in the field of unmanned aerial systems and much more."


The next consortium event will be a booth at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville in mid-February highlighting agricultural uses of unmanned aerial systems for increased productivity and efficiency.


More than 80 individuals from across Kentucky and out of state attended the Dec. 11 summit, held at the Commerce Lexington building in downtown Lexington, including entrepreneurs, business leaders, government leaders, university researchers and leaders, students and hobbyists. The summit was jointly sponsored by UK College of Engineering, the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs and the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship and the Lexington ICC.


Those who would like to find out more about the USRC may contact Professor Suzanne Weaver Smith at or 859-323-4545. Requests for information may also be sent by mail to Prof. Smith at University of Kentucky, College of Engineering, 151 RG Anderson Bldg., Lexington, KY 40506-0503.



MEDIA CONTACT: Keith Hautala, 859-323-2396;


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