Using advanced technology to make drones more robust

Posted Dec 4, 2016 by Tim Sandle
Drones are becoming more commonplace; however, one thing holding back the wider use of drones is the ability of the craft to cope with extreme weather. A university has been investigating how improvements can be made.
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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) are being used increasingly for commercial and domestic use. One limiting factor is the ability of drones to cope with extremes of weather. This is the subject of a recent university review, carried out by Professor Beibei Ren from the Texas Tech University.
Drones can be significantly affected by weather and other factors that create disturbance, whether this is choppy waves from the sea, or where a drone is required to travel close to a wind turbine. The uncertainty produced from such conditions can be too much for a drone’s navigational system to cope with.
The solution, according to Professor Ren is with improving the software used to control drones. This can allow the drone to accommodate unknown perturbations and better adapt to extreme flight conditions.
The improvements should, according to Professor Ren be directed to introducing uncertainty and disturbance estimator (UDE)-based robust controls to increase the computational power of drones. Professor Ren thinks this type of control mechanism is easy to introduce.
This would allow drones to undertake tasks that have, so far, proved difficult such as oil and gas pipeline assessments, checking the structural integrity of bridges and roads and mobile highway traffic monitoring. Another area is assessing wind turbines. Here a drone would need to accurately and rapidly assess variations in wind currents, something that is not readily achievable with current technology. Professor Ren’s team is working on an on-board intelligence system that can allow the drone to adapt to fast changing environmental conditions.
Working on the internal computer power of the drone is necessary because access to GPS and external cameras is often limited. A future area of development is with the cameras fitted to drones, which limit the range and speed that of the air-bound device. An alternative solution to a more powerful battery is the use of wireless charging stations.
Professor Ren has detailed her recommendations in a research monograph entitled "Modeling, Control and Coordination of Helicopter Systems."