Sense-and-avoid systems set to aid UAVs in commercial use

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A project team from Queensland University of Technology is to develop sense-and-avoid systems for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

It is hoped that the technology could allow the use of UAVs in commercial airspace and help them to make safe landings in an emergency.

‘We expect the system we’re developing will fit UAVs with a higher level of intelligence so that they can both sense and avoid other traffic and determine appropriate landing spots should the need arise,’ said Dr Luis Mejias Alvarez of Queensland University of Technology.

‘UAV flight plans are set pre-flight, and if something goes wrong and they need to land they have no way of determining where the safest landing spot is — in most cases they just drop,’ he added.

The team also believes the research would be applicable to commercial, manned aviation. During emergencies, pilots focus on regaining as much control of their aircraft as possible and there is a need for a system to help them choose appropriate landing sites.

‘When things go wrong with an aircraft while it’s in flight, a pilot has to try to manipulate a lot of instruments to gain control of the aircraft,’ said Alvarez. ‘It’s very difficult to also visually scout around the surrounding area to find the best possible places to land, particularly when the terrain below may be unfamiliar to the pilot.’

The researchers are working on a GPS-based system that will incorporate a camera to pinpoint to the pilot any larger, vacant spaces that would provide landing options.

The project, called ’Developing novel concepts for improved safety in aircraft emergency situations’, has been awarded AUS$375,000 (£250,000) from the Australian Research Council and is expected to take three years to complete.