Panoptes takes UAS collision avoidance to the next level

By Patrick C. Miller | August 20, 2015

The Internet is full of videos showing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) accidentally crashing into objects that were closer than they appeared.

Panoptes Systems Corp., a company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not only has a solution for this problem, but is also is developing next-generation collision avoidance technology more useful for commercial operations of unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Fabrice Kunzi, chief technology officer for Panoptes, describes the company’s eBumper4 system—available for the 3D Robotics Iris+ and the DJI Phantom 2 line—as the technology that enables UAS to crawl before they can walk and then run.

Just as a bat sends out sound waves that bounce back and tell it how close it is to an object, the eBumper4 works on the same principle to keep a UAV a safe distance from obstacles, as demonstrated in this video. It can detect an object as far out as 15 feet at speeds near six miles per hour.

The system is designed for easy installation. Kunzi said anyone who knows how to use a screwdriver can put it on a drone in 10-15 minutes. Panoptes is working on improvements to make the eBumper4 more useful to customers.

“We plan on releasing an app sometime in the future where you just plug in your phone and tell it how far away to stay away,” Kunzi said.

Currently, the eBumper4 is designed for low-speed applications, such as bridges and other infrastructure.

“It’s best used for the loitering applications where you’re intentionally flying slowly and the pilot is in the loop,” Kunzi explained. “The eBumper4 gives a base level of protection for the aircraft and the operator.”

Panoptes is tackling the challenge of UAS collision avoidance in four separate steps. Kunzi said its next generation technology will enable UAS operations in open areas below 500 feet with the ability to detect and avoid other low-flying aircraft.

“What we’ve decided to do is look at the collision avoidance problem from more of a systems perspective,” Kunzi said. “As a commercial pilot and a mechanical engineer, I look at this problem not just from the perspective of how to keep a UAV from hitting a child in the backyard, but also from the bigger picture of the national airspace system and the safe integration between manned and unmanned aircraft.”

That’s why Panoptes believes a phased approach provides the best solution for the wide variety applications and the environments in which UAS will operate.

“Our belief is that one solution is not going to fit all,” Kunzi noted. “It’s not going to be a question of machine vision solving it or it’s not going to be a question of radar solving it. Because of the sheer size of the problem, there’s going to be different subcategories it that problem that need to be solved—in a sense—locally.”


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