Drone Technologies and Sensing

Learn about Drone Technologies and Sensing

The Drone Technologies and Sensing (DTS) research area combines some of the latest research from the General Engineering Research Institute (GERI) in the field of state-of-the-art drone technology, alongside well established research streams in optical measurement and sensing that have a long history of sustained research excellence.

Drones have been described in a McKinsey Global Institute report as being “one of the top 10 disruptive technologies of the 21st century”, so it is unsurprising that GERI’s drone research is one of the most exciting and dynamic research areas at LJMU. It is a relatively recent addition to GERI’s research portfolio, having been set up as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Research Group and laboratory in 2014. Since then the area has seen huge interest in terms of an ever-widening set of applications including cultural heritage, manufacturing, civil engineering, coastal and off-shore monitoring, environmental monitoring, forensics, policing and security. Research has focused on the development of various novel Airborne Sensor Systems deployed on UAV aerial platforms, along with the design and advanced control of the drones themselves.

Optical metrology sensor research at LJMU has roots that go back to the 1970’s under the auspices of the former Coherent and Electro-Optics Research Group. It focuses on techniques that solve measurement problems in the fields of industrial engineering and medical technology. The group has developed and worked with many optical sensing technologies, including bespoke Structured Light Fringe Projection Systems for 3D surface measurement, custom Fibre-Optic Bragg-Grating Sensors, Holography, Digital Holography, Holometry, Interferometry and Advanced Microscopy.

Under the wider sphere of the General Engineering Research Institute we can draw upon a wide range of skills and state-of-the-art facilities to help solve diverse academic or industrial problems. We are currently working with international researchers in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Lithuania and Oman.


Drone technology is one of the fastest growing technologies in the world at the moment. Fortune Magazine stated in 2014 that commercial drone use will grow by 20% year on year for the next 10 years, however since then virtually all estimates of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) growth have massively exceeded this target.

LJMU’s GERI drone group are a dynamic applications focused research team, interested in any problems that may be solved using drones or unmanned vehicle technologies. Facilities include a well found drone laboratory, including custom drone manufacturing and rapid prototyping capability, a wide range of fixed wing and multi-rotor drones, along with a wide array of portable sensors, including LIDAR, photogrammetry, thermal and gas sensors. The group works with a number of world-leading industrial companies in the drone industry, including Vulcan UAV in the UK, who manufacture large custom drones, and Pix4D in Switzerland, who develop 3D photogrammetry software and are linked to French Drone manufacturer Parrot.

The group are also research coordinators and lead partners in the prestigious EC-funded Horizon2020 project, DigiArt, which uses drones to capture in 3D world heritage sites in Belgium and Greece in order to create ‘Virtual Reality Worlds’ and realise the radical new concept of the ‘Internet of Historical Things’.

Areas of current drone-related research activity include:

  • New optical stereo photogrammetry techniques for precision 3D measurement from UAVs
  • Development of LIDAR techniques in UAV operations
  • Strategies for controlling co-operative UAV swarms to aid rapid 3D measurement
  • Advanced manipulations of GNSS (GPS) systems applied to UAVs
  • Applications of UAVs in cultural heritage and archaeological projects
  • Aerial gas sensing using drones
  • Indoor UAV mapping
  • Drone use for data capture in forensic applications

A selection of drone related research results and videos are available on the group’s dedicated YouTube channel.

The University takes a rigorous approach to safety and holds a UK CAA Permit For Commercial Operation. Staff in GERI’s drone team all hold professional pilot qualifications. 

Sensing and Optical Metrology

In addition to compact electronic sensors used on drones, the group has a long and successful history in optical measurement. GERI’s optical metrology sensor research at LJMU focuses on applications in industrial engineering and medical technology. The group has made advances in many different optical sensing technologies, particularly 3D Optical Structured Lighting Sensor Systems for surface measurement and phase unwrapping.

GERI has developed and worked with the following optical sensing technologies;

  • Bespoke Structured Light Fringe Projection Systems
  • Phase Unwrapping
  • Custom Fibre-Optic Bragg-Grating Sensors
  • Holography
  • Digital Holography
  • Holometry
  • Interferometry
  • Image Processing
  • Advanced Microscopy

The group is internationally renowned for its world leading work on phase unwrapping software. This is high-impact research, involving a key algorithmic stage that is useful across several sectors. It was originally developed for use in Engineering as a necessary process within 3D optical structured light sensor systems, however it additionally plays a pivotal role in medical fields for MRI tomographic scanning and also finds important applications in geoscience, where it forms a vital stage in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) systems.

Facilities include a well found optical laboratory, a Bruker Contour GT-K 3D optical white light interference microscope, a GFM MikroCAD Premium Optical Surface Profiler, with Motorised X, Y, Z Stages, and an Optonor VibroMap1000 TV Holography/ESPI System.

In addition to DTS’s key Engineering disciplines, GERI staff have also been responsible for several applications in medical fields, including the creation of one of the fastest, most accurate patient-measurement systems in existence for use in medical radiotherapy applications, alongside the Christie Hospital Manchester. As part of this work, the team of researchers developed bespoke and novel 3D Structured Light Optical Measurement Systems. 

We also have a history of multidisciplinary working alongside other GERI researchers and the School of Pharmacy and Bimolecular Sciences in the area of Bio-Engineering to investigate novel research areas, such as the bio-mechanics of cells, radiation studies in cell mechanics, and methods of modifying cellular functional response and behaviour. The group has an advanced microscopy laboratory, with research class Atomic Force and Fluorescence Confocal Microscopes, as well as on-site cell-culture facilities.

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Contact details

If you’d like to ask a question or find out more about information about this Group, please contact the team using the details below.

Contact: Dr Francis Lilley

Email: f.lilley@ljmu.ac.uk

Call: +44 (0)151 231 2018


General Engineering Research Institute
James Parsons Building
Byrom Street
L3 3AF