NRC introduces revolutionary technology for drones to avoid collisions and enhance safety

National Research Council of Canada Press Release | July 19, 2017

Estimated reading time 2 minutes, 48 seconds.

With unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) becoming increasingly popular, the risk of collision with manned aircraft has become a concern. To integrate UAVs into the national airspace, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) has developed its latest cutting-edge technology in the form of the Passive Intelligent Collision Avoidance Sensor (PICAS) system, which allows unmanned aircraft to detect oncoming aircraft more accurately than ever before in order to avoid collisions and enhance safety.

This photo shows the PICAS array with the seven cameras exposed. NRC Photos
This photo shows the PICAS array with the seven cameras exposed. NRC Photos

PICAS was created to fill a crucial technology and safety gap, for unmanned vehicles to detect aircraft that are not able to communicate their position to other aircraft.

“In sense and avoid, the hard problem is the sensing problem,” said Dr. Cyrus Minwalla, research officer in airborne research at the NRC. “You want to detect aircraft at long ranges and you also want a package that is light and low-power that can go on a UAV. This is exactly what we are working to create with PICAS.”

PICAS uses cameras that have a large field of view while also having a microscope-like capability that can “see” oncoming objects at long ranges. The PICAS software algorithm is then able to examine the images and determine if the object is another aircraft on a collision course with the UAV. This ability is unique because it can detect an aircraft that is approaching head-on while it is still far enough away for the UAV to avoid.

Array weather sealed within a carbon-fiber enclosure with UV haze filters mounted in front.
Array weather sealed within a carbon-fibre enclosure with UV haze filters mounted in front.

It is able to sense, in real time, Cessna-sized collision-course targets at a distance of up to eight kilometres. The box-like sensor is also small enough to be attached to the exterior of an unmanned vehicle.

As of yet, there is no such technology that is commercially available. Flight tests are currently being conducted to verify PICAS’ accuracy, putting the NRC on course to make the first commercially viable sense and avoid system by 2018.

This project is part of the NRC’s Civilian Unmanned Aircraft program.

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