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Professor Hugh Liu – or shall we say, Captain Liu – and his University of Toronto team of autonomously controlled flight experts might yet be the next Hollywood sci-fi inspiration. Drones typically invoke an aerial military or extra-terrestrial invasion, but under Professor Liu’s command, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be used for much higher purposes that include, but are not limited to, agricultural to environmental monitoring.
Ed Holder, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology and Mark Adler, Member of Parliament for York Centre, recently announced a grant award of $1.65 million to Professor Liu to train 150 new experts in the field of UAVs. This project is among the other 17 from across Canada to receive total funding of $28 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program in an effort to position Canada as one of the premier players in the world technology sector. Professor Jimmy Huang, who is currently director of York’s School of Information Technology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, also has received $1.65 million over the next 6 years to lead the Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM), and help enhance Canada’s capacities in public safety and emergency management. Minister Holder said in an interview with Culture Magazin: “This is Canada’s commitment; this government believes when you invest in young people, brilliant and exciting things happen. When you take the strength of young minds and give them a chance to work in practical terms, combined with academia and industry, some amazing things happen.”
Also present at the award announcement and drone demonstration event was Member of Parliament, Mark Adler who believes strongly in academic innovations. He shared something his grade 5 teacher told him when he was just 11 years old: “Your ears can not hear, your eyes can not see, and your mind can not imagine the miracles you are going to see in your lifetime,” and how he appreciates this quote more than ever now.
Professor’s Liu UAVs are among the most advanced apparatus currently available, armed with eight sets of blades and the ability to respond to sensor input. The algorithms in these UAVs are similar to those currently being used in commercial aircrafts, and can even handle much more sophisticated command inputs. These UAVs are equipped with thermal cameras and can track infrared light radiating from hot objects. They can also fly in synchronized formations, and sense each other’s location to act as a tight unit. This innovation has proven to be vital since many of the existing drones can not act as a team to carry heavier loads.
For this invention, Professor Liu has received U of T’s “Inventors of the Year” award. Along with a few graduate students, he has created a company called Arrowonics Technologies Ltd. to commercialize this technology. Professor Liu believes: “Academic institutions, especially research intensive ones such as U of Toronto’s faculty members are actively involved in leading-edge research and teaching. Professors are given freedom to explore, to discover, and to innovate. In the meantime, we dedicate education to nurture young bright minds, to engage them in the process, to encourage them to explore, to discover and to pursue their passions. Innovation is an inspiration and natural result sparks through such creative, collaborative interactions.”