Nav: Home

Obstacles to overcome before operating fleets of drones becomes reality

May 02, 2019

AMES, Iowa - Search and rescue crews are already using drones to locate missing hikers. Farmers are flying them over fields to survey crops. And delivery companies will soon use drones to drop packages at your doorstep.

With so many applications for the technology, an Iowa State University researcher says the next step is to expand capacity by deploying fleets of drones. But making that happen is not as simple as launching multiple aircraft at once. Borzoo Bonakdarpour, an assistant professor of computer science, says unlike piloting a single drone by remote control, operating a fleet requires an automated system to coordinate the task, but allows drones to independently respond to weather, a crash or unexpected events.

"The operating system must be reliable and secure. The drones need to talk to one another without a central command telling each unit where to go and what to do when conditions change," Bonakdarpour said. "We also want to optimize the time and energy to complete the task, because drone batteries only last around 15 or 20 minutes."

To tackle this problem, Bonakdarpour and his colleagues developed a mathematical model to calculate the cost - time and energy - to complete a task based on the number of drones and recharging stations available. The model considers the energy required for each drone to complete its portion of the task and fly to a charging station as needed.

On paper the solution is relatively simple for a team of computer scientists, but Bonakdarpour says moving from theory to implementation is not as easy. "As we work on one problem, we actually find new problems we must solve. It's challenging, but that's also what makes it exciting," he said.

For example, if a battery lasts 15 minutes in the lab, it may drop to 10 minutes on a hot or cold day outside. Locating charging stations is another issue. The optimal placement may be in the middle of a lake and inaccessible in reality.

Managing tradeoff between energy and security

Based on their model, Bonakdarpour, Anh-Duy Vu with McMaster University, Canada; and Ramy Medhat with Google in Waterloo, Canada, developed four operating methods - three offline optimization techniques and one online algorithm. While an offline technique is limited because the preprogrammed flight paths do not allow drones to respond to unexpected events or changing conditions, Bonakdarpour says it provides the foundation for the online algorithm to operate.

The researchers conducted a series of simulations (see video) using four drones to test for efficiency and security. They found the online algorithm successfully managed the security-energy tradeoff within the energy limits of the drones. The fleet completed all assigned tasks and more than half of the authentication checks. The researchers recently presented the findings at the International Conference on Cyber-Physical Systems in Canada.

Defending against hackers, rogue drones

Operating an automated fleet of drones poses security risks that are less of a concern when piloting a single drone by remote control. Bonakdarpour says with automation drones need to receive GPS signal and position frequently. If the signal drops or the drones fly into an area that is GPS-denied, it can quickly become a problem.

"If you're driving your car and lose GPS, your driving skills don't depend on that signal. You may miss an exit, but loss of signal for a minute is usually not a big deal. However, with drones just a few seconds is not tolerable," Bonakdarpour said.

Software bugs or errors may cause a drone to fly off course and not follow direction to complete the mission. Bonakdarpour says hackers can also send the wrong signal or operate a drone to impersonate the fleet. While finding solutions will take time, Bonakdarpour says the technology exists to make it happen. However, it will also take industry support to build infrastructure and charging stations as well as regulatory changes to allow for the operation of a fleet of drones.
-end-


Iowa State University

Related Technology Articles:

How technology use affects at-risk adolescents
More use of technology led to increases in attention, behavior and self-regulation problems over time for adolescents already at risk for mental health issues, a new study from Duke University finds.
Hold-up in ventures for technology transfer
The transfer of technology brings ideas closer to commercialization. The transformation happens in several steps, such as invention, innovation, building prototypes, production, market introduction, market expansion, after sales services.
The ultimate green technology
Imagine patterning and visualizing silicon at the atomic level, something which, if done successfully, will revolutionize the quantum and classical computing industry.
New technology detects COPD in minutes
Pioneering research by Professor Paul Lewis of Swansea University's Medical School into one of the most common lung diseases in the UK, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, has led to the development of a new technology that can quickly and easily diagnose and monitor the condition.
New technology for powder metallurgy
Tecnalia leads EFFIPRO (Energy EFFIcient PROcess of Engineering Materials) project, which shows a new manufacturing process using powder metallurgy.
New milestone in printed photovoltaic technology
A team of researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität have achieved an important milestone in the quest to develop efficient solar technology as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Gene Drive Technology: Where is the future?
For this episode of BioScience Talks, we're joined by Gene Drive Committee co-chair James P.
Could Hollywood technology help your health?
The same technology used by the entertainment industry to animate characters such as Gollum in 'The Lord of The Rings' films, will be used to help train elite athletes, for medical diagnosis and even to help improve prosthetic limb development, in a new research center at the University of Bath launched today.
Assessing carbon capture technology
Carbon capture and storage could be used to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and thus ameliorate their impact on climate change.
New technology for dynamic projection mapping
It has been thought technically difficult to achieve projection mapping onto a moving/rotating object so that images look as though they are fixed to the object.

Related Technology Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".