Thursday, September 8, 2011

Formation Flying For Drones - How Far Has It Progressed?

Defence and Security organizations see unmanned air vehicles, or drones, as a great tool for a variety of surveillance applications. Technology currently being developed will allow drones to be linked into formations and survey vast amount of territory, assist in search and rescue missions and operate in conflict situations while achieving the same level of efficiency as manned aircraft. But before the drone formations can be deployed and operate with minimal human intervention, real-time control schemes must be developed and tested.

In their previous work, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) scientists Dr. C.A. Rabbath and Dr. N. Levin focused on passivity-based formation control, developing the theory for controller design, and verifying it using numerical simulations. Now they have teamed with Dr. Jacob Apkarian, Quanser's founder and Chief Technological Officer, to implement the controller on an actual physical system and perform the experimental validation of the passivity-based formation control concept. At the recent 2011 AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference they presented a paper outlining the experimental results they achieved.

Using an indoor experimental test-bed consisting of Quanser's Qball-X4 unmanned quadrotor helicopters and Qbot ground vehicles, the researchers created a drone team consisting of followers and a leader. Key tests included autonomous drone formation coordination and mixed mobile robot - drone formation teaming. The results of the experiments indicate that a passivity-based formation control scheme produces cohesive formation motion and can be seamlessly integrated with a commercial off-the-shelf drone autopilot.

Click here to read the full paper titled "Experiments with a Passivity-based Formation Control System for Teams of Small Robotic Drones".

You can also visit Quanser's website to learn more about the Unmanned Vehicle Systems Lab, an indoor platform for teaching and research used in engineering departments worldwide.

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