Before delivery drones start carrying packages (and passenger drones start delivering ourselves), engineers will need to keep refining an unmanned aircraft's ability to navigate and detect obstacles.

University of California – San Diego robotics researcher Tim McConnell oversees the Aerodrome – a facility that may look like a driving range, but is, in fact, a testing ground for unmanned aircraft.

The drone testbed, built in 2018, is made up of a 30-foot-tall mesh cage over a 2,500-square-foot outdoor area. The Aerodrome at UC San Diego is provided by the university's Contextual Robotics Institute. 

"We wanted to come up with a concept of a place where you could freely fly drones and do research without having to worry about getting authorization from the FAA or the military," McConnell told us in this episode of Here's an Idea.

Learn how McConnell and UCSD students are using the space to take drones out for a spin, and to try out the kinds of maneuvers required in a future of “urban air mobility."

Listen to a brand-new episode of Here's an Idea™ — our Tech Briefs interview series with leading aerospace researchers.

Subscribe or listen via your preferred podcast provider here. 

This episode is sponsored by FUTEK Advanced Sensor Technology .

Episode Highlights

  • (2:48) How did the idea of the Aerodrome come about?
  • (3:45) What does the Aerodrome look like?
  • (4:24) What’s being tested in the Aerodrome?
  • (10:00) How has the Aerodrome supported drone navigation and communication capabilities that are required for future applications?
  • (10:54): What technologies are critical for drones to operate in busy environments?
  • (11:40): How do you make sure that you don’t trash your drone?
  • (13:15): What are some of the applications that you envision for drones?
  • (17:20): What’s the most challenging aspect of drone testing?
  • (20:18): What’s possible with 5G?
  • (27:07): What advice to you have for engineers bringing ideas to reality? 


Go to the Contextual Robotics Institute  to learn more about the Aerodrome .

Watch below as a team works through initial flight parameters for a custom-built hexacopter:

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A UCSD researcher takes a drone out for a test flight.
Researchers program a drone for flight. Mechanical engineering graduate students Aamodh Suresh and Aaron Ma, from the lab of Sonia Martinez and Jorge Cortez, monitor a demo at the Aerodrome opening.
Construction begins on the Aerodrome in late 2017.
A drone takes flight in the Aerodrome at UCSD.

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