Unmanned Systems Technology 025 | iXblue DriX I Maintenance I UGVs I IDEX 2019 I Planck Aero Shearwater I Sky Power hybrid system I Delph Dynamics RH4 I GCSs I StreetDrone Twizy I Oceanology Americas 2019

54 T he co-founder of Planck Aero, Josh Well, was a helicopter pilot for the US Navy working on the Fire Scout programme. It involved landing large (1 tonne) unmanned helicopters on a Littoral-class ship that was pitching around in the waves. While trying to do so, he saw smaller rigid boats around the vessel where the challenge of landing UAVs was even greater. From that experience, Planck Aero has been developing a system to allow commercial UAVs to land on a moving platform, whether it be a moving truck or a boat at sea. “We set out to put UAVs on boats, and realised early on that the primary barrier was to land successfully and reliably,” says the company’s Dave Twining, a former satellite engineer. “Pilots are not very good at it – it’s hard, so in order to have a scalable technology for virtually any boat the whole system had to be automatic. We then expanded from boats to ground vehicles, from trucks and light tactical vehicles to small and large unmanned vehicles.” The technology can be deployed as a complete, ready-to-fly system and is also offered as a navigation system for third- party aircraft. To ensure that the system is scalable and can be easily integrated into different UAVs, the technology is relatively simple. It is all based in the UAV using a single optical camera, and relies on a passive symbol, or marker, on the landing area. This is similar to a QR code, and provides data to the control system to allow the UAV to track the landing area, which may be bouncing around on a rough track or pitching and heaving on the waves. As the system is entirely optical, the UAV also has to adapt to changes in the light during a landing, and ensure that it lands safely without injuring anyone nearby. “The reason we focus on vision is that it is the most reliable and robust approach, but has the smallest required impact on the rest of the system,” says Twining. ”We want to deploy UAVs on platforms that aren’t designed for them – most trucks don’t have flight decks. That means you don’t need any [specialist] equipment on the ground, so you can quickly deploy the system.” Planck is also working on landing on non-cooperative targets that don’t have the marker, but that is far more challenging. The main requirement is the coded optical marker, which ensures that the UAV is landing in the right place. The carefully designed pattern on the marker also ensures there are no obstacles, as the image of the marker on the landing pad is compared to the same image stored in the UAV. It also provides a jam-resistant and GPS-free means of landing. Nick Flaherty reports on an imaging system that homes in on a target to allow a UAV to land on a moving platform Target market April/May 2019 | Unmanned Systems Technology