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New technology makes drones safer and smarter

A safety system developed by Swiss engineers allows drones to recover stable flight from any position and land autonomously when their engines fail.

“Our new technology allows safe operation of drones beyond the operator’s line of sight, which is crucial for commercial use of drones, such as parcel delivery,” says Professor Davide Scaramuzza, co-inventor and Director of the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich.

The drones are fitted with a single camera and acceleration sensors. Their orientation system emulates the human visual system and sense of balance. As soon as a toss or a failure situation is detected, computer-vision software analyses the images to identify distinctive landmarks in the environment and restore balance. All image processing and control runs on a smartphone processor onboard the drone. This renders the drone safe and able to fulfil its mission without any communication or interaction with the operator.

“Our system works similarly to a tight-rope walker. When you balance on a rope, you fixate on some static points in the environment and shift your weight accordingly to restore balance,” says co-inventor Matthias Faessler.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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