Collision Avoidance: The Latest Big Leap in Drone Technology

Published October 24, 2016

Drones are quickly evolving. Some quadcopters can zip through the sky at over sixty miles per hour, and other drones can remain in continuous flight for a half-hour. As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continue to get faster and are able to stay in the air for longer periods of time, new safety precautions are needed. Few things can cause a drone enthusiast’s stomach to drop faster than watching their investment crash and tumble hundreds of feet to the ground.

Manufacturers are constantly seeking to improve their designs in order to stay competitive in the booming industry of drones. One safety feature that has emerged this year is the collision avoidance system — and it is revolutionizing the market.

What is a collision avoidance system?

Collision avoidance systems map out the surrounding area by creating full three-dimensional stereoscopic images, much like human eyes. Most models with such technology feature two or more cameras. These cameras are able to discern the placement of objects. This information can be used by drones to prevent crashes.

In March 2016, DJI was one of the first companies to introduce a built-in collision avoidance system (dubbed the Obstacle Sensing System) to the consumer market with the Phantom 4 — and the feature will likely become standard in high-end UAVs in the years to come. DJI’s system is comprised of two forward-facing cameras that can detect obstacles up to nearly 50 feet away. When an object is detected, the Phantom will cease movement and hover in place. The pilot can then manually redirect the vehicle around the obstacle.

Another popular model with an object avoidance system is the Yuneec Typhoon H. This hexacopter is equipped with technology called Intel RealSense. It is marketed as the most advanced collision avoidance system for consumer drones. Front-facing sonar detectors aid in close-range object detection. Enthusiasts hotly debate the pros and cons of the Typhoon H versus the Phantom 4, but it is indisputable that both UAVs have revolutionized the industry with these new object detection systems.

How does collision avoidance change the game?

While the price of high-end drones might dissuade consumers from taking the leap, built-in safety measures could make higher-end models more cost-efficient than one might expect; some businesses have been making a killing in the last couple years by selling drone insurance and extended warranty coverage. Many enthusiasts opt to protect their UAVs with a proper carrying case. As built-in safety measures are introduced, such precautions will not be the only way for users to protect their vehicles. Obviously, object detection technology will reassure concerned pilots who do not want to risk damaging their UAVs. Enthusiasts can enjoy piloting with a greater peace of mind.

Not only do these systems prevent damage to drones or other property, they also allow for new features that consist of automatically piloting the device:

  • Recent high-end models of drones are able to return to the takeoff point when the battery is low, or when one loses communication with its pilot.
  • Object tracking — the automated following of a specified person or object — is now possible. The UAV will keep its camera trained on the subject and will move to keep it within sight.
  • Automatic navigation, such as that used in DJI’s proprietary TapFly system, allows users to automatically send a drone to a remote location. Owners simply tap on a map and the drone will determine the best route to reach the selected destination.

During all three of these scenarios, object detection can prevent crashes from occurring. DJI and Yuneec have taken full advantage of their collision avoidance systems by including features like these in the Phantom 4 and Typhoon H, respectively.

This technology will also have huge implications for businesses and consumers, changing the way in which we interact with drones. In the near future, postal and food delivery services will use drones equipped with collision avoidance systems; in fact, Google will be launching a drone delivery service as early as 2017. This technology will permit delivery drones to travel without incidences and deliver packages in areas free of obstacles. In the future, drones will continue to be used by organizations in innovative ways, thanks to collision avoidance systems.

Moving forward, commercial drones will continue to impress. As manufacturers innovate with new features, drones will play a bigger part in our everyday lives. Recent innovations mean that piloting can be automated. Inexperienced users will appreciate the safety measures. Videographers will be able to capture 4k video footage of any subject without the need to even manually pilot. The possibilities that anti-collision technology introduce are endless. Those who have not yet explored drones should take note: the future is now.

Image courtesy flickr

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