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Buzzing Off Hackers With A New Bee-Inspired Aircraft Landing System

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 13:10
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Gerard LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

A new landing system is being developed for aircraft that is fully separate from any outside technology, and will improve passenger safety by blocking would be hackers, according to the University of Queensland. The study was published in the Journal of Field Robotics and supported by the Australian Research council, the US Army Research Office and Boeing Research and Technology Australia.

Researchers from the UQ, led by Saul Thurrowgood, has developed a landing gear system that is separate from technology like laser-range sensors, radio beacons or GPS signals. “It is totally independent of GPS signals, which can be blocked or hacked, and is a start for aircraft to independently understand their surroundings,” said Thurrowgood, a professor in Mandyam Srinivasan’s Neuroscience of Vision and Aerial Robotics laboratory.

The new autonomous system was created by implementing the biology of bees and implemented on a small aircraft for testing.

“Bees use optic flow for their descent – using the rate of motion beneath them to guide their landing – and recent testing also shows that they may also use stereo vision for their touchdown, which is using two eyes to judge distance,” Thurrowgood said. “We have incorporated both of these techniques in our automatic landing system, but modified them for use in a fixed-wing aircraft.”

The aircraft had a 6.5-foot wingspan with front-mounted cameras for guidance. “The plane used the visual system to guide itself, sense its altitude, control its throttle and shut itself off when it landed,” Thurrowgood said.

The aircraft uses optic flow information acquired by the video feed to sense and control the height above the ground and horizon profile. It also controls stabilizing roll, controlling pitch and if required controlling stabilization of yaw and flight direction. While at low heights the optic flow can be unreliable, so the system uses stereo information instead to guide the descent and touchdown of the aircraft.

During testing, the rate of successful landings were 92.5 percent.

“All commercial aircraft need to have backup systems, and this research provides the option of having different types of sensing. If one isn’t working then the pilot has something else to fall back on,” Thurrowgood concluded.


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