Academic collaboration for UAV chemical detection

Collaboration between Loughborough University and local SME to develop next generation of chemical detectors for UAVs.

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The Company

T4i Engineering is an SME focusing on the design and development of advanced chemical detection systems that are mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The company is a member of the Integrated Mission Group for Security (IMGS) and participates in the EDEN supplier platform and the DRIVER community. They are also members of the European Alliance for Innovation (EAI) of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Special Interest Group established by InnovateUK.

What they do

Their core business is the design of modular and adaptive detectors and R&D activities related to security applications and search and rescue operations. They collaborate with UAV and robot providers on mounting chemical detectors on-board unmanned platforms. 

T4i Engineering runs R&D in areas of miniaturisation and additive/subtractive manufacturing for chemical detectors.  T4i engineering explores both field and industrial applications in collaboration with university teams.

The Challenge

The detectors on board UAVs need to be small, lightweight and have low power consumption.  They also need to be able to cope with variations in pressure, temperature and humidity as these can all have a bearing on the reliability and accuracy of the readings.

The design & development of these systems entails the evaluation of performance on-board the UAV, where rapid changes of temperature, pressure and humidity are likely to occur, due to flight conditions. T4i wanted to establish a relationship with academics at Loughborough University with a view to working together on larger R&D projects.

The Solution

T4i Engineering Ltd applied to The iNet for support from the ERDF Smart Innovation and Networking for Growth programme.  This programme offers SMEs fully-funded access to up to 5 days support from a Loughborough University academic.

The company used their 5 days of support to work with Dr James Knowles, a lecturer in dynamics and control at the Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering department of Loughborough University. 

The project was to:

  • Understand the impacts of flying conditions on the performance of a chemical detector as a payload on a UAV
  • Deliver concrete proposals for further studies that will allow any constraints or limitations under certain flight conditions to be addressed,
  • Find the optimum location/placement of the detector on the unmanned platform,
Dr Knowles hoped that the study would benefit his research activities through:
  • External engagement with T4i Engineering and the generation of impact from his research findings,
  • Expanding his contribution to the department’s existing research activities in the area of UAV chemical detection systems (which are currently algorithm-focused).

T4i Engineering hoped that the study would:
  • Result in new knowledge for performance optimization of the T4i DOVER™ chemical detector which is designed for use on board unmanned vehicles.
  • Lead to further studies (and possible applications to further funding schemes) for establishing a theoretical model of impacts that will address different types of chemical detectors as well as different types of UAV

In addition to this support, T4i Engineering was also supported by the Loughborough University Space Incubator programme.  The company was not previously aware that businesses working on space-enabled applications (making use of satellite data, communications and imagery) could be eligible for support from the space sector.  The company was signposted to a range of support organisations and funding competitions.  The company was introduced to InnovateUKs’ Knowledge Transfer Manager for Space and the UK Ambassador for ESA’s Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) programme.

The Outcome

Dr Knowles completed the work and produced a report which detailed his findings and highlighted questions requiring further investigation.

T4i are looking to continue working with Dr Knowles on more extensive studies and are seeking funding opportunities for such work. A new project will seek to establish, among others, a theoretical model of impacts that will address different types of chemical detectors as well as different types of UAVs.


“James studied the impacts of flying conditions on the performance of the detectors helping us to identify ways to optimise the performance of our T4i DOVER™”

George Pallis, MD
About the client

T4i Engineering Ltd

T4i Engineering Limited
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