Air travel, statistically, is pretty safe. And every once in a while, you can expect a Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger to come to your rescue and pull a miracle on the Hudson if things go wrong. Not so in the case of UAVs.
Drones can prove to be a serious safety hazard if they just dropped out of the sky due to a technical snag or an unexpected critical flight issue. This is why NASA is developing an autonomous crash management system that would direct UAVs to a safe and clear ditch site to do an emergency landing without hurting anyone on the ground.
Called Safe2Ditch, the technology has been developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center and is awaiting patent approval. The emergency management system sits on board a drone in a small processor and runs self-diagnostics to anticipate problems in motors or batteries.
In the case of a malfunction, the system swiftly calculates how much control authority and battery life is left in the crippled vehicle, and uses that to determine the best route to reach the safest crash land location possible. These could include fields, parking lots, drains, parks, etc.
Safe2Ditch identifies the crash-land location using intelligent algorithms and pre-installed database of safe landing zones in the local area – something that airlines also do for emergencies. While the goal is to minimize the damage to people and property, the system also tries to avoid damage to the drone. So, as the drone nears the landing site, the system uses machine vision to inspect the area to make sure it is clear as expected.
NASA maintains that the technology is being developed keeping in mind the affordability factor for commercial drone manufacturers. With a large commercial market for drones emerging – handling everything from deliveries to surveying – UAVs would exceedingly fly closer to people in urban and suburban environments. As such, crash-landing software like this becomes quite vital to mitigate the dangers of a drone falling out of the sky.
If you are a drone manufacturer looking to license this technology, click here.