Inside the Story: BYU lab focuses on unmanned aircraft that fly without GPS

Inside the Story: BYU lab focuses on unmanned aircraft that fly without GPS (Photo: KUTV)

A lab at Brigham Young University is all about building unmanned aircraft.

It's an industry that is booming--especially as we hear about cars, planes, and even drones driving or flying themselves.

The lab is called the Magicc Lab, which stands for "multi-agent intelligent coordination and control."

2News' Dan Rascon got an inside look at the lab, where graduate students were working on a significant project where a drone followed a car without anyone controlling it.

"The safety pilot is not touching the controls at all," described student engineer Michael Farrell. "The computer on board the drone itself--it's telling it where to go."

The launch took years of work to master, and tens of thousands of codes to program.

"The drone is using visual information to find the car, and to follow it and figure out where it's going and keep track of it," explained Craig Bidstrup, another student engineer.

The whole idea behind the Magicc Lab is to get rid of a remote so drones can fly on their own.

"This idea is, how do you fly without GPS?" said professor Randy Beard.

Beard, along with fellow professor Tim McLain, started the lab long before drones became common.

"We spend most of our efforts in the development of sensors and algorithms," McLain said.

Twenty years ago they were working on ground robots and remote control planes. Over the years, they knew the industry was going towards unmanned aircraft.

"It's a great industry right now for students to go into," Beard said.

The Magicc Lab has huge support from some 30 industry partners.

"They direct the research," McLain said. "They tell us what problems are important to them and we put our graduate students to work."

That work can bring about some fun in problem solving.

"It's sweet. I love it. It's kind of become my hobby and my work," said student James Jackson.

There are about 30 graduate students in the program right now.

Each have their own specialty in electrical, mechanical, or computer engineering.

For more about the BYU Magicc Lab, visit its website.