Stereo camera at the ARTIS flight test carrier
A safe flight in arbitrary scenarios requires a situational awareness that is able to consider the properties of the environment. This mainly means that the aircraft has to sense and avoid dangers by itself, even during wireless data link losses and beyond the pilot's line of sight. This becomes possible through the environmental perception with cameras, laser range finders, and other sensors and the application of intelligent algorithms that integrate the environmental properties into flight control. The used methods are comparable to those used in the robotics and automation domain, but they have to be adapted to meet the specific requirements of unmanned aircraft. For the evaluation of new methods, the image and sensor data processing system was integrated into the simulation environment and into flight control.
Data fusion of satellite navigation, camera, laser, and inertial sensors is gaining importance as well as the integration of the whole sensor data processing chain into a reliable flying system. Amongst others, the environment sensors are used to detect dangers and the ego-motion of the aircraft. Additionally, the sensors are taken as a payload for further applications like environment cartography.
Recent research investigations which have already been tested with unmanned helicopters are for example:
Furthermore, there are synergies to manned aviation and to spacecraft topics. Examples are the detection of other aircraft for the improved automatic collision avoidance (sense/see-and-avoid) and the evaluation of optical navigation and mapping techniques for the automated and precise lunar and planetary landing.