Queensland researchers have developed an unmanned aircraft capable of flying in civil airspace which could potentially be used to save lives in disasters.

Drones could soon be flying in civilian airspace after Queensland researchers developed world-first onboard detection technology for unmanned aircraft.

The state government says the breakthrough technology may enable drones to be used in disasters, including bushfires and floods.

The technology detects when the drone is in the vicinity of other aircraft and sends real-time warnings back to ground control.

It was developed in a two-year, $7 million project led by the Queensland University of Technology and has been successfully trialled at an airfield north-west of Brisbane.

QUT professor Duncan Campbell said the research aimed to fast-track the development of smart technologies to enable unmanned aircraft to fly safely in civil airspace.

“Ultimately this will allow unmanned aircraft to provide public services such as assistance in disaster management and recovery, as well as in environmental, biosecurity and resource management,” he said.

Science and Innovation Minister Ian Walker said the technology had the potential to save lives.

“This technology could see unmanned aircraft carrying out low-level flying to assess risk and damage, keeping our emergency service workers out of harm’s way,” he said in a statement.

Prof Campbell said the use of unmanned aircraft in civil airspace would ultimately be regulated by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority.