Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Unmanned Aerial Systems

The use of drones has become ubiquitous in the fields of defense, aerial photography, and industrial inspection. They can be flown by humans via remote control or operated autonomously as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with off-the-shelf autopilot features.

Operating drones in hazardous and complicated environments, however, may require an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) where the UAV/drone, human operators, autonomy algorithms, sensors, and data processing tools work together in a fully integrated solution. Southwest Research Institute is advancing the capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems used across commercial, defense and industrial applications.

Working with the latest sensors and off-the-shelf aircraft, we are developing intelligent software that makes drones work independently with less burden on operators. Our software autonomy stack helps drones find their way around facilities, making their own decisions about where to fly and what to inspect.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems & UAV Autonomy

In addition to autonomous software, SwRI can integrate payloads, modify aircraft hardware, and draw on internal SwRI sensor expertise to create tailor-made drone solutions addressing a wide range of applications for our clients. Our industry applications include the following:

  • Defense - Soldier-operated drones have been a game-changing technology for small units. But the need for human piloting and monitoring of video feeds takes a soldier out of the fight, increasing rather than decreasing the manpower required to deploy “unmanned” systems. SwRI develops technologies to make drones behave more like a trusted team member, able to act correctly and with minimal operator input, rather than as a piece of equipment to be operated. We can upgrade drones to enable them to accomplish demanding mission objectives. And as an independent non-profit, we are hardware agnostic and free from vender lock. As technology permits, we will work with your preferred hardware, payloads, and interfaces to create new capabilities.
  • Industrial Inspection - Drone technology is helping industrial users better monitor and manage their equipment, facilities, and infrastructure. Our technology can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of inspection operations via automation, enabling drones to navigate spaces that are difficult or dangerous for humans to access.
  • Search and Rescue - Our software autonomy stack enables drones to explore interior spaces, detect and locate personnel, hazardous materials, and other features of interest. We recently demonstrated our technology at a nuclear power plant where our drones were able to explore interior spaces and locate radiation sources, all without the aid of human pilot.


Inspecting Nuclear Facilities with Drone image
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