Envisage a drone that is autonomously airborne in 15-20 seconds when an alarm is triggered. It steers itself to the scene and hovers above it, taking live, high-resolution footage for the police or security companies. Nelson Mandela University’s autonomous operations group is developing precisely this capability. Specialising in drones, gliders and autonomous underwater vehicles, the group is exploring a range of capabilities while supporting research being conducted by the university’s scientists and engineers. Surrounded by parts in a warehouse of the faculty of engineering, the built environment and information technology in Port Elizabeth, mechanical engineer Damian Mooney is hard at work. He is one of SA’s few specialists in remotely piloted aircraft systems and has been a commercial pilot for 20 years. "Drones and gliders are rapidly gaining ground globally because of their diverse applications," he says. "Drones can be fitted with multispectral cameras and data-collecting cap...

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