It was a pretty cool job, and Kevin Boily got to do it.
Boily, of AV Commercial Systems/West Coast Home Theatres in Courtenay, said his latest project may by one of his most eye-catching to date — and he has a 30-foot mast to prove it.
What was once the shell of a Mercedes Benz Sprinter Van now contains equipment, computers, screens, and a large retracting tower to control unmanned aerial vehicles for civilian uses, thanks to Boily and his colleagues.
The van is the Mobile Command and Control Centre for the University of Victoria’s Aerospace Research Program, which designs, uses and tests unmanned aerial aircrafts for applications such as agriculture, search and rescue, wildlife preservation and more.
Boily said he learned of the project about three months ago, and had about two months from start to finish to completely customize the van for the university.
“The design was all pretty basic to us, but we spent a lot of hours trying to figure out how to make things fit,” he explained. “The design changed a lot, but we worked hand and hand with the university.”
Jenner Richards, manager of the Centre for Aerospace Research at the University of Victoria, told media he was excited that a Vancouver Island company was able to perform the complete retrofit of the van.
“We looked at a lot of companies that we thought were capable of doing this and really there weren’t that many,” he said. “One of the well-known ones is in Florida and there were some places on the mainland that didn’t have that didn’t have a lot of experience.
“So when it turned out there was a place locally and close to us we were pretty excited. It’s always nice to be able to spend close to home and to have a closer knit community.”
Richards explained unmanned aircraft is the “new dawning of technology when it comes to aerospace.”
“UVic wanted to research as well as apply some of the learning that we do at the university,” he added.
He noted there is a lot of potential for developing the technology in Western Canada, and the centre in Victoria has collaborated with other companies on how unmanned vehicles can help out in civilian air space.
“They’ve been around a lot in terms of military drones … but we want to promote the peaceful uses and a lot of the applications,” Richards said. “Pretty much anything a manned aircraft could be used for, these potentially can be used for as well without endangering life and at a cheaper cost as well.”
As the aircrafts are unmanned, the van-based command centre allows someone to watch the health of the aircraft and make sure it’s not flying into any populated or hazardous situations, he explained.
“We always like to have a pilot in the loop in case something goes wrong so we can make the ultimate decision. Even though we’re not in the airplane, we always want to monitor it.”
The van will be based at the Victoria International Airport, and is capable of watching, guiding and assisting the aircrafts for missions up to 20 hours at a time.
“We’ve got a really good technical and theoretical foundation and now with the development of our centre we feel we’re poised to work with industry … who have applications to develop new technologies that we can really do some exciting things and be on the cutting edge for Canada and worldwide,” added Richards.