Case Study

Drones for surveillance, security, delivery       

The Challenge

The U.S. is ramping up its drone technology and manufacturing capacity for national security and defense as well as for civilian and commercial purposes, such as surveillance, search and rescue, and package delivery. One company in Asia dominates the market in small quadcopters, which are critical for all of these applications because they can deftly hover, take off, and land, both indoors and in dense urban areas.

We’re looking for ways to advance our technology quickly. Northeastern is a premier research organization, and a lot of things going on there fit well with our technology priorities. The technical staff we work with is second to none.

Tom Vaneck

Vice President and Managing Director, New England Innovation Center, AeroVironment

The Partnership

In 2019, AeroVironment, a California-based drone developer and the largest supplier of unmanned aircraft to the U.S. military, sought to expand to the East Coast. The nonprofit MassRobotics pointed the company to Northeastern’s Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts. The campus forges research collaborations on site with companies, which also gain valuable access to academic and government partners.

Welcoming AeroVironment to Burlington, Northeastern built a 3D printing and electronics lab to the company’s specifications. Within three months, AeroVironment’s research group grew from three to 43. The group has begun working closely with faculty members, integrating their expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and materials into quadcopter prototypes. The teams assess the drones’ communications, cybersecurity, and GPS navigation capabilities within the campus’s Expeditionary Cyber and Unmanned Aircraft Systems R&D Facility.

The Goal

Northeastern and AeroVironment researchers aim to advance technology in autonomous drone navigation, flight agility, and package delivery. Shortening timelines from research and discovery to real-world implementation is another goal. While AeroVironment is focused on military applications, certain drone technologies could translate to law enforcement and commercial applications. For example, the same thermal sensing drones used on the battlefield could also help spot forest fires or insulation gaps in roofs.

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