Daniel Wilson was named one of Engineers Australia's Top 50 Innovators last year after creating the world’s first autonomous mid-air docking between drones. He is now working in San Francisco as the CEO of OCI Technologies.
Dr Daniel Wilson’s interest in autonomous aircraft began during his Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Mechatronic) undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney where he built and tested a low-cost autopilot.
After completing his undergraduate degree he headed back to his country of origin, New Zealand where he worked for Martin Aircraft on the flight control system for the Martin Jetpack – a manned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flying machine. While he was there the Martin Jetpack was featured in Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2010.
Realising his desire to further explore the capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) he moved back to Australia and completed his PhD at Sydney University with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics.
During his four years of research he demonstrated what is thought to be the world’s first autonomous mid-air docking between two UAVs, also known as drones. As a result of this breakthrough, in 2016 he was named one of Engineers Australia's Top 50 Innovators in Australia.
Last year he relocated to San Francisco where he is the Co-Founder/CEO of OCI Technologies, an aerospace company focused on developed autonomous solutions that extend the capability of unmanned aircraft.
We spoke to Daniel about where his passion for developing UAVs came from and where he sees the aerospace industry heading in the future.
The thing I enjoy most about my job is being lucky enough to spend most of my time doing what I love.
An important moment was during my mechatronic undergraduate degree at Sydney University when I decided to build a low-cost autopilot UAV (drone) as my final year thesis with Dr Ali Haydar Göktoğan as my supervisor. It was my first taste of UAVs and has shaped my entire career. Dr Göktoğan also later became my PhD supervisor which was fantastic.
One of the highlights of my career was being selected by Engineers Australia as one of Australia’s Top 50 Innovators last year. It was the culmination of four years of postgraduate research, so it was great to recognised for all the hard work. My experience at Sydney University helped me reach that goal and they also nominated me for the award!
We’ve been lucky enough to be involved in some of the most cutting-edge aerospace projects, working primarily on autonomous airborne navigation systems.
There have been some gradual regulatory changes around UAV operations. These rules mostly affect commercial operators but it has impeded UAV research in the past, particularly in the USA.
Previously US regulations made outdoor UAV testing very difficult. It could only occur in a handful of designated areas by certified operators. The UAV would otherwise have to be tethered or be flying in a netted area.
In the next five years I think we will see passenger-carrying autonomous electric aircraft deployed for relatively short journeys. With that we will see opportunities to design the vehicles and infrastructure.
We will continue to seek out and work on interesting aerospace projects while simultaneously building our own product offering.
In five years I’d like to see the team expanded, the company sustained through our product line and a large portion of the engineering team focused on cutting-edge aerospace research.