Flying Robots See in 3-D
Flying drones under development at the Avigle project in Germany could avoid colliding with each other via a newly developed 3-D eye.
Robots flying in swarms could keep from colliding with one another via new electronic eyes that help them see in 3D.
Such mechanical flocks could be used to create airborne communications networks, capture video for concerts or sports matches, or provide surveillance for security purposes or overviews of disasters, replacing the need for more expensive aerial photography and satellite imaging, researchers said.
The anti-collision technology in question is a light-detecting CMOS sensor like those found in cellphone cameras. Every pixel on the sensor is given a distance value, enabling machines equipped with the sensor to accurately determine their position relative to their surroundings.
"The sensor can measure three-dimensional distances very efficiently," said researcher Werner Brockherde, an electrical engineer at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems in Duisburg, Germany.
Originally, this 3D device was developed for anti-collision sensors on automobiles. Now researchers are exploring it for miniaturized unmanned flying robots, Brockherde told InnovationNewsDaily.
The Avigle project in Germany envisions flying robots traveling in flocks. Each drone has a wingspan of about six feet (2 meters), with a large propeller on each tilting wing to help it maneuver like a mini-helicopter.
To remain in tight formation, these robots need to know their companions' precise locations. Robots with the sensor could identify objects as small as 5.9 inches by 7.8 inches (15 by 20 centimeters) at ranges of up to 24.6 feet (7.5 meters), and work even when there is interfering light, such as when a drone is flying into the sun. This new sensor offers significant advantages over radar when it comes to preventing collisions, allowing drones to fly within a few yards (meters) of one another.
"Given the near-field operating conditions, radar images would be far too coarse," Brockherde said.
The researchers plan "to increase the performance of this sensor technology up to the physical limits," Brockherde said. He and his colleagues will detail their work at the Fraunhofer CMOS Imaging Workshop on June 12 and 13 in Duisburg.