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Drones can now steer themselves clear of obstacles

By studying bats, researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have succeeded in equipping drones with a sensor system that prevents them from colliding in the air. It is the first step towards drones that can fly without human intervention.

Researchers from the Center for BioRobotics at the University of Southern Denmark have developed an anti-collision system for drones inspired by the ability of bats to fly quickly and close to each other without colliding. The drone itself changes course if it is in danger of flying into an obstacle such as a tree or another drone.

- In the future, we will see drones everywhere, so we need to increase their safety so that they don't fly into each other. Therefore, we have implemented an anti-collision system for drones using a technology seen in bats, namely echolocation, says research assistant Mathias Flindt from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark.

Drones learn from bats

Bats use echolocation as a unique way of orienting themselves while airborne. The bat sends out ultrasonic calls. When the soundwave hits something like a tree or another bat and is bounced back, the bat knows how close it is to the object. In this way, it avoids collisions.

- The use of drones is often limited to daylight hours and conditions with good visibility. One advantage of the echolocation system is that it also works at night and when visibility is poor. This creates some completely new possibilities for the use of drones," says Mathias Flindt.

Help for the pilot

Initially, the new technology is intended as an aid for the pilot. If the pilot controlling the drone steers it too close to a building, the drone will correct itself and maintain a sensible distance. In the longer term, the project will end up with a drone that can fly itself about in a forest, just like a bat.

- In the future, we will see fully automatic drones flying without human intervention. But in order for that to happen, the drones need to have some basic skills and senses. It is essential for them to be able to avoid collisions with other drones, buildings or people, both for the drones themselves but also for the surroundings in which they are working, emphasises Mathias Flindt.

For more information, contact:

Research Assistant, MSc in Engineering - Robot Systems, Mathias Flindt: 6013 6179

Editing was completed: 09.11.2015