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Stefan Winkvist - Unmanned Aerial Inspection Vehicle

What's your background and why did you decide to study for a PhD at WMG?

I graduated from the University of Warwick in 2009 with a first class Masters in Electronic Engineering.

Throughout my undergraduate studies I was involved in a number of robotics projects - robotics also being one of my hobbies. During my third year I developed an autonomous control system for a tracked robot to navigate a set course around campus without intervention. In my final year I was put onto the highly successful Warwick Mobile Robotics team's Search and Rescue Project. Both of these projects were supervised by staff at WMG. It seemed like a natural progression to join the team and add aerial robotics to the portfolio.

Tell us about your research project.

This project involved the development of an autonomous flying robot that can internally inspect and map areas of buildings that may be hard to reach or hazardous for humans to enter.

A major challenge in the project was that the robot was to be flown out of sight of the operator, or even in a different building. This makes controlling conventional remote controlled helicopters very difficult, so one of the aims was to make the helicopter as autonomous as possible in that the operator simply directs it where to go, avoiding any obstacles en-route.

In order to achieve autonomous control, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) needs to know where it is so that it can detect and correct for drift and also to navigate. The primary focus of the project became to develop a three-dimensional mapping and localisation algorithm which could run solely on the on-board. A challenge that at the time had not been demonstrated by other universities or research groups on a flying vehicle. The project was a collaboration between Sellafield Ltd and WMG.

How did you find the experience of studying for your PhD?

Apart from the writing, the whole PhD has been a blast. From designing and building to dusting the office and workshop using the UAV when bored.

The PhD has opened a lot more opportunities than I had expected. During my time at WMG I've spoken at conferences, featured in Wired Magazine and BBC Midlands Today, had papers published and exhibited at The Gadget Show and Farnborough Airshow.

My advice to potential applicants for a PhD would be to try and pick a topic that interests you, don't forget to have fun and lastly don’t leave all the writing to the last minute.

Where are you now?

I am now working as a Research Engineer at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry. I would not be working here if I had not done the PhD.