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New technology makes drones safer and smarter

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Posted April 15, 2015

Quadcopters, commonly known as drones, currently are gaining public attention. They can be used in a variety of handy ways, helping scientists to observe nature and dangerous phenomenon such as wildfires and volcanoes. However, as they have got cheaper and easily accessible, a lot of enthusiasts of bird’s-eye view have got them. And now researchers at the University of Zurich have unveiled new technology making drones safer and smarter.

Among other features, new system allows launching drones by simply tossing them in the air – drone will automatically restore its balance. (Image: UZH)

Among other features, new system allows launching drones by simply tossing them in the air – drone will automatically restore its balance. (Image: UZH)

This technology should help drone to recover stable flight from any position and land autonomously in failure situations. It also allows launching drone by tossing it into the air like a baseball. Furthermore, by using it drones will be able to identify safe landing sites and land automatically when necessary. Scientists say that this technology will come especially in hand when drones are flying out of the sight of operator, when lost control can end with an accident, for example, when drones are used for parcel delivery.

Safety concerns did not appear out of nowhere. Growing population of drones and range of possible applications of these unmanned aircrafts means that accidents can happen at any time and at any place. Drones can lose connection or simply run out of battery, therefore they must be able to detect safe landing spots and properly execute landing operations by themselves. Recovering stable flight is also very important, as drones might temporarily lose their GPS position information. In such situations it has to rely on back-up systems and regain stable flight.

That is what technology, developed at University of Zurich, accomplishes. Drones of university are equipped with a single camera and acceleration sensors. As soon as instability is detected, computer-vision software analyses the images to identify distinctive landmarks in the environment and restore balance. System works through smartphone processor on-board the drone and can make flight of the drone safe and able to fulfil its mission without any communication or interaction with the operator.

System is programmed to emulate the human visual system and sense of balance. Scientists say that it is similar to a tight-rope walker. A person on a rope balances himself by shifting its weight, looking at some static points in the environment. That is also how drone restores its balance, using sensors and a camera. The technology also scans the terrain beneath the drone and builds 3D model of the environment, which is used to group the terrain beneath the drone into “risky” and “safe” landing sites. If situation calls for an emergency landing because of low battery or system failure, he drone can automatically find a good, flat spot for landing and perform this task without any human intervention.

This technology is just one step further to making these quadcopters safer and more efficient. In the future they might become more than just hobbyist toys and research tool to get to places too dangerous for a man to go to. There are already project to use drones for delivery of goods. And for this, drones need to be safer not to inflict danger of people and property they fly above.

Source: UZH

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