A PhD researcher from the University of Sydney has successfully flown a drone that can autonomously dock mid-air.
Daniel Wilson set out four years ago to develop a drone that could dock mid-air in order to recharge, and potentially fly continuously without needing to land to refuel.
"In addition to docking, this system could be used for any application that requires highly accurate positioning, relative to a static or moving target. This could include precision landing on ships, net recovery or close formation flight," Wilson said.
He used two off-the-shelf UAVs kitted out with customised software built on the Simulink platform.
The first UAV is tethered to a cone-shaped “drogue” and fitted with infrared markers. The second UAV detects these markers with a front-mounted infrared camera and attempts to enter and position itself inside the drogue to simulate fueling.
The UAVs are also connected with a wireless communications link to position themselves for automatic docking.
Wilson said he is now looking to the next stage of development for his technology as his prepares to have his thesis published.
“We could do more trials with even closer docking,” he said.
“Autonomous refuelling is the next step, which is more of an engineering problem. Eventually, we could have small vehicles using this to refuel but for now, we’re still focusing on the docking.”
For the immediate future, Wilson will look to commercialise the high-performance autopilot to other researchers.