Drone capabilities in farming shine at CDU Katherine Open Day

Remote regions of the Northern Territory are proving ideal for visual drone activity to cover a wide sparse of ground quickly

Charles Darwin University (CDU) demonstrated its expanded capabilities in drone education training and research at the CDU Katherine Rural Campus Open Day on the Stuart Highway just 16km north of Katherine

The sky was the limit at the Crossroads of the North where Charles Darwin University (CDU) demonstrated its burgeoning capabilities in drone education, training and research at the CDU Katherine Rural Campus Open Day.

Building this capacity for drone technology in the Katherine region is the Northern Territory’s first research, training and test flight centre for drones – the North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems (NACAS) – established at CDU.

NACAS is developing an airspace corridor for drones that stretches from Katherine to 30 kilometres north of the town, above 250 square kilometres of tropical savannah and semi-arid country.

The drone corridor is being created specifically for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones – a category of technology that operates outside the direct visual range of the pilot. 

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CDU Chief Remote Pilot Rebecca Ludgate said the remoteness of the Northern Territory, and the area surrounding Katherine, are ideal for BVLOS drone testing because the land is sparsely populated.  

“The remote airspace is expected to provide an important BVLOS drone testing site for CDU researchers, as well as commercial organisations, such as drone manufacturers,” Miss Ludgate said.  

“For instance, CDU researchers plan to use the airspace to build capacity in BLVOS operations as part of a trial program exploring the potential for drone technology to deliver life-saving medical supplies to remote First Nations communities in the West Arnhem region.

“The new airspace is also expected to provide a crucial training ground for CDU students to gain technical skills and competency in drone operations, including BVLOS and Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) technologies.”

CDU Drone Program Coordinator Dr Rebecca Rogers said the airspace supports a suite of new education and training options in remote pilot aviation planned for delivery at the CDU Katherine Rural Campus in 2023 and 2024.

Drones are proving so popular in the remote regions of the Northern Territory the CDU is adding training option courses in remote pilot aviation at the CDU Katherine Rural Campus in 2023 and 2024

“These Katherine-based options include Certificate III Aviation (Remote Pilot) and a VET Delivery for Secondary Schools (VETDSS) program, in partnership with National Drones, which creates a pathway to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers for young Territorians from years nine to 12,” Dr Rogers said.

“The CDU drone program will be available for schools in Katherine later this year, giving school students a taster of the Certificate III qualification.”

People from the Katherine region had the opportunity to explore these expanded study options and soak up new knowledge of drone technology from a CDU team of remote pilot aviation experts at the Katherine Rural Campus Open Day.

The Open Day featured a drone display, a drone simulator that allows people to gain firsthand experience navigating the machines, and an area for flying mini-drones with guidance from experts.

Drones used for applying herbicide and fertiliser in areas sometimes difficult to access by land-based vehicles are proving their worth

CDU Associate Vice-Chancellor for Katherine and Big Rivers Region Alison Haines said the community event gives prospective students the opportunity to explore hundreds of short courses, degree education and vocational training options.

“Our Katherine Town Centre and Rural Campuses offer a wide variety of courses, such as hospitality and tourism, health, agriculture, rural operations and environmental studies,” Mrs Haines said.

“It also provides information for study options with a focus on the environment, business, retail, information communication and technology, health, animal health, childcare, tourism, hospitality, sport and recreation.”

Other highlights of the event include tours of the on-campus working farm and stud, a portable stockyard, live music, free children’s activities and community market stalls.

See our recent feature on the latest release DJI farm drones to assess what model could assist your own operation on this link.