A team from the University of Leicester is to investigate the potential use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology to advance understanding of our heritage.

Using novel ground penetrating radar techniques from the platform of a UAV the researchers hope to investigate previously inaccessible sites to better understand how people have been using space and creating places over time. The project has come about thanks to a new partnership between the University of Leicester and Loughborough based Sterling Geo through the part European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funded ‘Innovation through the Research Support Accelerator’ (IRSA) Project. Sterling Geo is part-funding the appointment of a new M.Phil. research student, Mark Collins, who is tasked with looking into novel ways of using unmanned aerial vehicles.

By partnering up, Sterling Geo is able to benefit from the experience and knowledge of the Geography, Archaeology and Geophysics disciplines at the University of Leicester and the IRSA project.

Sterling GeoTheir academic knowledge and experience helps to support the development of ideas currently in an embryonic state.

Under the supervision of Professor Heiko Balzter and Dr Booker Ogutu of the Department of Geography, Mark will shortly begin investigating solutions utilising lightweight GPR units and UAV platforms.  Mark graduated from the University of Leicester with a BA in Archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Mark said:  “My interests particularly lie in researching prehistoric landscapes in order to better understand how people have been using space and creating places over time.

“New technologies and techniques, like the GPR, that can potentially be used to investigate previously inaccessible sites are an exciting development that I’m pleased to be involved with.”

Mark has access to several testing grounds, including the site of a Roman villa that the Department of Archaeology & Ancient History are currently working on and an area of extensive peat bog-land of interest to the Geography Department.

He said:  “I’m really excited to be part of a project that combines new applications of technology and geographic science in a way that has obvious implications for my own research.

“I’d like to say thank you to everyone at Sterling Geo, the University of Leicester, G-STEP and the IRSA Programme for giving me the opportunity to research it.”

Teresa Smith, IRSA’s ERDF Project Manager and Education Specialist, said:  “IRSA is delighted to be supporting 12 months’ dedicated research in collaboration with Sterling Geo in the fast developing area of UAVs and their associated instrumentation.

“This is exactly the sort of project the IRSA and ERDF is interested in funding to further strengthen regional links between the University of Leicester and the East Midlands body of innovative companies.”

Ed Lamb of the University of Leicester’s G-STEP project, which assisted with project organisation, sees great benefit in the work.  He said:  “We see UAVs being used more frequently and in a broader range of applications in the future so there is need for research now.

“The G-STEP project mission is to assist East Midlands based SMEs with access to earth observation data and GIS and the successful start of the project strengthens ties with Sterling Geo and is of great benefit to both the company and university as it links industry with world class research.”

Phil Cooper, Director and General Manager for Sterling Geo, said:  “We are committed to supporting academic research in the field of Geographical and Environmental Science.  We currently offer huge discounts on ERDAS software to academic organisations through the CHEST agreement and now we’re pleased to be able to cover Mark’s university fees to enable this essential research.

“We already have strong links with the University of Leicester.  I studied there myself and our employee Emily Winter graduated there last year.  I’m proud to be able to provide the opportunity for someone else to succeed.”

University of Leicester and Sterling Geo will be publishing updates on the progress of the M.Phil throughout the year.