Some day, businesses and operators hope that drones will be able to become fully autonomous and fly beyond line of sight. But in order for the FAA to feel safe, there needs to be a system in place that allows them to operate safely and efficiently without hitting anything.
The future of sense-and-avoid technology is being discussed at InterDrone this week. Tom Driscoll, founder and CTO of the radar technology company Echodyne; Alexander Harmsen, CEO and cofounder of computer vision company Iris Automation; Craig Marcinkowski director of strategy and business development for R&D company Gryphon Sensors; and Andrew Thurling, director of product safety and mission assurance for drone company AeroVironment, spoke on a panel discussing how we can advance this technology, what sort of software and hardware we will need, and how all of this will be integrated on the drone.
Right now technology like radar and computer vision are giving drones the ability to intelligently see and detect objects, but those technologies have their disadvantages.
According to Driscoll, while computer vision is great, it has trouble with range and operating in certain environments. But Harmsen argued that vision is a very cheap and powerful solution, and we need to be able to provide a vision system that is similar to what we have been using so that it is commonplace. Harmsen believes that radar is a new paradigm, and would take longer and be harder to adopt.
Thurling believes it will depend on the application, vehicle, and how the drones are operated. If you fly fast, the drone is going to have to look out far in front of it, but will only have to look at a small piece of the sky. If the drone is slow, it will have to be able to look behind it, so it depends on the flight characteristics of the drone, he explained.
What the panelists did agree on was that LIDAR would not be a good fit in sense-and-avoid technology. According to Driscoll, LIDAR’s range is a problem, and it doesn’t fix issues other sensors and technology don’t already fix.
Harmsen added that it is expensive, provides low resolution, and it is just too heavy to implement.
At the end of the day, Driscoll says in order to solve sense and avoidance, we need experts to step forward and help bring all this technology together. Harmsen believes it needs to be a software approach. Marcinkowski says sensor technology fused together will give us our best option. And Thurling wants to see a layered approach to this technology.