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NT looks to the skies as drones take off

Wannabe drone pilots could soon flock to the Northern Territory as Charles Darwin University develops a qualification for safe flying and opens a research hub.

November 26, 2022
By Marion Rae
26 November 2022

The uncluttered air space over the Northern Territory will be used to push the boundaries on drone research, adding to its development as a base for space discoveries.

A drone research and training centre has been established at Charles Darwin University and the next generation of remote pilots will soon buckle up for a vocational certificate.

Professor Hamish Campbell, director of the North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems, said drone use would grow exponentially over the coming decade.

The machines and their artificial intelligence are expected to play a key role in many sectors, including delivering vital drugs to remote patients and being used for high-tech defence operations in an increasingly volatile region.

“Charles Darwin University’s strategic location and immediate proximity to uncluttered air space has made it a key partner for government and industry,” Prof Campbell said.

The centre has already attracted interest and funding from national and international partners. It will also get its own Wingcopter delivery drone.

Last month, the centre landed a slice of a $12 million federal emerging aviation technology partnership program and will trial drone deliveries from health centres to remote communities in the West Arnhem region.

Earlier this year, the university won territory and federal funding for a $2 million project with RMIT University and Siemens for developing a test flight unit and advanced manufacturing.

A vocational course in aviation for drone pilots will soon be available at the university and the centre says it is working with Aboriginal corporations and land councils to bring training to their communities.

Prof Campbell said Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs would suit high-tech manufacturers looking to move to or create an arm of their business in northern Australia.

The territory is already launching rockets from the Dhupuma Plateau, near Nhulunbuy.

In June, NASA launched a rocket from the new Arnhem Space Centre – the agency’s first launch in Australia in 27 years and its first in history from a commercial spaceport outside the United States.

The local Yolngu people helped build the space centre, which is owned by Equatorial Launch Australia, on their land and retrieve rocket modules when they returned to earth.

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