Six U of T Engineering projects receive funding boost for state-of-the-art research tools

U of T Engineering professor Steven Waslander (UTIAS) is developing the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, that are capable of high-speed maneuvers, automated landing and stable flight near obstacles.

“This work could greatly expand the applications quadrotor drones are useful for,” explains Waslander. “The more advanced they become, the better they’ll be at inspecting infrastructure, search and rescue in remote environments, tracking moving objects for security, and delivering light-weight packages.”

But to succeed, his team needs the necessary state-of-the-art equipment to make it happen. Waslander is among six U of T Engineering researchers to receive funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), announced today.

The fund provides researchers with foundational tools and infrastructure, enabling research discovery and innovation. Funding was awarded to 33 projects across the University of Toronto, totalling more than $9.5 million.

For Waslander, the CFI JELF will go towards acquiring the latest in motion-capture cameras for real-time, high-accuracy motion tracking of drones, as well as a dedicated GPU server, for rapid graphics processing, to improve vehicle modelling through reinforcement learning.

The team is partnering with tech company NVIDIA, which will provide the GPU cluster, and Vicon Industries Inc for the cameras. This equipment will be deployed within an innovative indoor flight arena, located at the U of T Robotics Institute in the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

With the setup, Waslander and his team will test automated drones as they track a moving ground rover within the flight arena. “We want to execute repeated landings on the moving vehicle, maintaining the relative position accuracy to within 10 centimeters, even as the speed of the target vehicle increases,” says Waslander, who is working with Ford Motor Company and Drone Delivery Canada as a first application of this method.

“Foundational research infrastructure, coupled with world-class researchers, leads to groundbreaking discoveries,” says Ramin Farnood, U of T Engineering’s Vice-Dean of Research. “With the support of CFI, our U of T Engineering researchers can continue to be leaders in their field and make positive, vital contributions to our society and the economy.”

The U of T Engineering CFI JELF recipients in this round are:

  • Leo Chou (BME) —DNA Nanotechnology for spatially programmed immune receptor activation
  • Jane Howe (MSE, ChemE) — Advanced scanning electron microscope for in situ and liquid-phase electron microscopy study
  • Goldie Nejat (MIE) — Robotics infrastructure for smart manufacturing (RISM)
  • Nicolas Papernot (ECE) — Trustworthy machine learning
  • Steven Waslander (UTIAS) — Autonomous docking and active perception for unmanned aerial vehicles