HomeAggies, Aussies make history piloting drones from 8,000 miles away

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History was in the making on the basketball courts of the Texas A&M Student Recreation Center on Saturday evening, but not because of a sporting event.Texas A&M engineering students gathered together to fly unmanned aircraft located in Australia, while Australian students 8,000 miles away piloted drones located on the rec center courts.

A&M students who are a part of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics have been working since September to create an unmanned aerial system that can be controlled via the Internet, no matter where the user — or the drone — is located. Students at the University of Sydney in Australia have been working in sync with the A&M students on the project, constructing an identical drone in Australia that A&M students would fly from a controller in the rec center.

“If we can increase the capabilities of drones long distance, we can help people operate drones in perhaps more dangerous areas,” said engineering PhD candidate from Sydney, Benjamin Morrell, who has been working with Texas A&M students for several months on the project.

Morrell said most drones controlled from long distances today, such as military drones, are controlled through a satellite system, not via the Internet.“There is a substantial time delay for military drones with satellites,” Morrell said.

Morrell noted the synchronized event between Australian and A&M students was possibly the first international Internet-driven piloting of a drone ever performed. Students used a software known as Mission Planner, as well as Google Hangout to communicate overseas for the event.

More than a dozen students from A&M were present, and many were given the chance to pilot Australia’s drone, while they watched on a camera as the drone moved in real-time in a room in Australia. Students also looked on as a drone flew and spun around the basketball court of the rec center, powered by Australian students.