Universiti Putra Malaysia : Taking the Lead in UAV Research and Development

MIDA Insights - Research & Development

Jan 2020 - RND

Since its inception in 1996, the Department of Aerospace Engineering of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has been at the forefront of Malaysian research in the aerospace subject matter. The academic staff of the department has ample background and specialisations in all major fields of aerospace engineering: aerodynamics, propulsion, heat transfer, air- and space-craft systems and avionics, materials and structures, guidance and control, and vehicle design.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or UAS for systems) or commonly known as “drones” have seen prominence rise in modern society. Services and functions such as precision agriculture, surveillance, and delivery of goods and emergency supplies are increasingly dependent on UAVs due to their ease of use, speed and efficacy. Nevertheless, there is much room for improvement in terms of UAV design, power consumption, and operations.

Jan 2020 - RND

To meet the present and future challenges in drone technologies, UPM Aerospace is taking an active role in UAV research.

The facilities available at the Department of Aerospace Engineering include dedicated laboratories to wind tunnel testing, propulsion and power systems, and material fabrication and structural testing. One key advantage in UPM Aerospace’s arsenal is the UAV flight-testing area and airstrip, located in the hills of Puchong, Selangor.

The Department of Aerospace Engineering in UPM has a long history of conducting world-class Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) projects. As we approach the year 2020, it is now close to 20 years since the Department first embarked on an adventurous journey to be a key player in the study, research, and commercialisation of UAV products and services. Over the years, other faculties in UPM such as the Faculty of Agriculture and Faculty of Forestry have also started their UAV programmes for their applications.

As the world UAV/drone industry expanded exponentially, the Department of Aerospace UPM has managed to ride along with the same wave of success that other similar organisations around the world have capitalised.

UPM has been blessed with agricultural land in the past. Not many know the history of why the Department of Aerospace Engineering was placed in an agricultural-based space many years ago. In short, it was the vision of the government and the Prime Minister to enhance the nations advanced aerospace technology capabilities that led to the birth of the Department as published in the Malaysian Aerospace Blueprint 1997.

Jan 2020 - RND

When a bold decision was made to be a world leader in UAV research and technology in early 2000, a site owned by UPM known as Ladang Puchong was identified as the strategic place to build an airstrip for UAVs.Shortly after the runway was commissioned, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), now known as the Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia (CAAM), was invited for an official UAV flight demonstration.

The rest was history, as CAAM acknowledged the site as an official venue for UAV flight testings in UPM. Since then, the Department of Aerospace has clocked thousands of hours for flight testing of all types of UAVs and drones – some were research vehicles built from fundamental research and grew to be prototypes which were later, successfully commercialised in 2008. Today, Ladang Puchong Flight Testing Area which we passionately acronym as LUFTA has seen the birth and death of many prototypes – all in the name of science.

The department is well-linked with national and multi-national companies, government agencies and international universities and research agencies. Previous and current projects include vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV development, hybrid power systems, novel wing designs, high altitude turbines, and lighter-than-air platforms for heavy lift applications. Prior investment in UPM Aerospace projects totalled more than RM2 million to date, with many projects reaching patent and prototype status.

Word spread around a little over the last 20 years that UPM was active in UAV programmes. As a university, it has been blessed with a few opportunities to work with several national and international organisations in this field. UPM is keen to build a partnership with them that hopefully leads to a beneficial outcome – either in the development of products or services.

Some names of the honourable clients include King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), King Saud University (KSU) in Saudi Arabia, and the Nigerian Air Force. The Department of Aerospace is also working together with a few local companies such as Aero Terra Malaysia Sdn. Bhd., and DRB-Hicom in areas of Unmanned Vehicles. Nonetheless, the department looks forward to serving more.

UPM would like to welcome both local and international companies and institutions to approach them to collaborate on UAV projects. The Department also hope to meet customers expectations with their 20 years of UAV history at the university.

As a visible player in the arena, the Department has been presented with the award of a respectable amount of grants from various government agencies including from the university. The grants have enabled the Department of Aerospace to have a proper infrastructure, facilities and workforce to build and hire. After 20 years, the Department has matured and successfully embarked on few research projects to build various types of Unmanned Vehicles, such as long endurance fixed-wing UAVs, high-speed twin-jet turbine UAVs, high altitude unmanned balloon and multi-rotor drones. These vehicles are still operating in the Department today. A few of these projects have won numerous awards both in the local and international arena.

Jan 2020 - RND

Apart from research and commercialisation, the Department also emphasised teaching the younger generation the art and science of engineering UAVs and drones. A course called Aerospace Integrated Design Project (AIDP) for example, is offered to the final year Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering students to encourage them to design and build drones from scratch in 14 weeks. We also encourage our staffs and students to participate in UAV/drone competitions, at the same time to showcase our capabilities and long history of UAV know-how.

The last 20 years of running UAV programmes in UPM have been a notable success, and we look forward to another 20 years of colourful history not just by ourselves but with our future partners and collaborators.

For more information on our Aerospace and UAV programmes, please visit www.eng.upm.edu.my

In addition, a dedicated website for Ladang Puchong Flight Testing Area (LUFTA) has also been set up and can be visited at http://LUFTA.webnode.com. We have included photos and videos of our previous and current UAV projects done in UPM on this website.

Jan 2020 - RND

Jan 2020 - RND

Last Updated : Thursday 22nd October 2020