Law student takes flight and develops own drone concept

 abc.net.au  7/18/2017 12:59:16 AM   ABC Radio Perth By Emma Wynne

Posted July 18, 2017 10:53:30

A Perth student has built a high-performance drone with a new kind of battery that allows it to fly faster for longer, hitting speeds up to 65 kilometres per hour.

Tom Maclaurin is not studying science or engineering, but the second-year law student at the University of WA said he'd had an interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) since making one in high school.

"It has always been a hobby of mine and recently I decided to give a larger-scale one a go," Mr Maclaurin told ABC Radio Perth.

The secret to his drone's speed and longevity in the air is the battery.

"What I have done is create a unique battery with a really high energy density that can fly for about four times as long as anything that is currently on the market.

"Drones currently on the market can fly for up to half an hour and don't fly very fast at all, so they don't cover much distance."

New battery just the beginning

The technology Mr Maclaurin used remains a closely guarded secret, for now.

"The dream is to develop a totally new type of battery that would blow this out of the water and get much bigger flight times," he said.

"Maybe hydrogen fuel cells or even sodium fuel cells, which are big at the moment.

"It's a big market and a big area of research."

Mr Maclaurin was recently awarded a Student Startup of the Year grant by the UWA Business School.

He said he hoped his drone, named Swift, could have a number of commercial applications.

"When I designed it it was for agriculture," he said.

"But as I have moved through the process I have recognised that it could be used for surf lifesaving, maybe shark patrols, as well as by local government.

"It has applications for anything that requires monitoring or anything that currently requires manned aircraft.

"With this you don't physically need someone in the air; this can do it just as effectively and at a lot less cost and risk to people."

Career choices

Mr Maclaurin said he was not planning to drop out of law, but had wondered whether there was a career path to follow with Swift, rather than in the court room.

"It's definitely shaping up as a career opportunity.

"I have had a lot of interest from people who are either interested in investing in it or buying it.

"A decision will have to be made about whether I pursue law or pursue this."

Topics: computers-and-technology, university-and-further-education, internet-technology, people, perth-6000, university-of-western-australia-6009

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