ESA funds autonomous drone navigation system

A company that plans to generate electricity via tethered autonomous drones has received European Space Agency funding to develop a fail-safe navigation system.

Ampyx Power intends to fly its Airborne Wind Energy Systems at high-wind altitudes above 200m to turn winches on the ground that will generate electricity.

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Working with partner Omnisense, a Cambridgeshire-based developer of locating and tracking solutions, the positioning solution will be used for automated take-off and landing of Ampyx Power’s wind energy aircraft when applied offshore or over rugged terrain.

According to Ampyx Power, the aircraft launch and landing deck is smaller than the wingspan of the aircraft. High accuracy, availability, and integrity of the relative positioning between aircraft and platform is required during the final horizontal approach. This is to ensure safe landing in the case of GNSS outage.

The funding from ESA’s Navigation Innovation and Support Programme will cover the integration of Omnisense’s local positioning system into the navigation solution that will harness ultra-wideband positioning techniques. This is expected to provide 10cm of relative positioning accuracy with 100Hz update rate and an operating range up to 1km.

In a statement, Michiel Kruijff, Head of Technology at Ampyx Power: “The project allows us to integrate a backup local positioning system into the existing high-end navigation solution.

“This novel navigation technology will ensure that our aircraft can overfly the platform with great accuracy, even in case of GNSS failure.

“We seek such a high level of system robustness both for commercial reasons and for safety reasons, in line with our certification approach with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).”

“The closely time-synchronised fusion of ultrawideband signals exchanged between landing deck and aircraft mounted Omnisense beacons, will allow highly accurate range measurements to be provided to the drone autopilot, enabling continuous operation in the safety critical landing phase,” added Omnisense CEO Andy Thurman.