On Monday we looked at how Hurricane Hunters are using drone technology to better study the weather. Their drones are packed full of instruments, gadgets and technical wizardry; each with a unique and important purpose. But despite plenty of advancements, it's fair to say that drones tasked with gathering data are still held back by their size. More weight means a shorter flight time, as well as less room for more useful equipment...
Researchers at the German Aerospace Center have set out to help solve this problem by removing the need for a landing gear completely. If a drone can be caught instead of having to deploy heavy wheels and land, there'll be more of its payload left over for important instruments.
Catching a drone flying at 50mph might sound tricky, but in Bavaria, Germany, developers have programmed a Penguin B UAV to safely land on the roof of a moving car. After fitting a special platform onto the roof of an Audi, they equipped it with a number of optical markers to help the drone navigate into position – accurate to within 50 centimetres – directly above the moving platform. The drone is kitted out with a tracking system which recognizes the velocity of the moving platform and carries out the landing under computer control.
In essence, the movement of the UAV and ground vehicle is synchronised in real time, meaning that there is zero horizontal velocity, just like in a helicopter landing. The driver of the car also receives calculated control commands which indicate whether he should go faster or slower, but the developers at DLR expect this role to be performed by a robotic vehicle in the future.
Self-landing technology is expected to be applied to autonomous aircraft which are in the air for long periods of time, such as the solar-powered aircraft used alongside satellite systems which glide through the stratosphere. With no need for a landing gear and a higher payload, drones such as this can continue to provide live feeds to aid disaster relief, replace failed communications networks or gather data on climate change.