Imagine a drone hurtling through the air, one of its four propellers suddenly fails. In this precarious situation, traditional drones plummet to the ground. But now, researchers at Beihang University, a beacon of aeronautical and astronautical expertise, have unveiled a game-changing solution: an algorithm that keeps drones flying autonomously even after losing up to three rotors.
“When one rotor fails, the drone begins to spin on itself like a gyro[scope],” explained Prof. Quan Quan, lead researcher of the algorithm. This wild gyration overwhelms traditional controllers, leaving the drone disoriented and doomed.
Quan’s team boldly swerved away from the usual “swap controllers in mid-air” approach. Instead, they harnessed a sophisticated technique called “uniform passive fault-tolerant control.” This allows the drone’s onboard computer to maintain control amidst the chaos, even when three engines give out.
Imagine a masterful table tennis player, seamlessly returning every smash without missing a beat. That’s the image Quan uses to describe their algorithm’s prowess. Even with malfunctioning engines, the remaining propeller becomes a champion, single-handedly generating enough lift to keep the drone aloft.
Published in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, the research comes with a video showcasing real-world outdoor tests. The drone gracefully recovers from losing one, two and even three engines, remaining safely operational throughout.
Key researcher Ke Chenxu, a Ph.D. student at Beihang, said that the method can be applied to multi-rotor drones with six or eight rotors.
With quadcopters playing an ever-growing role in diverse fields, from firefighting to package delivery, the researchers believe this fault-tolerant control system has the potential to revolutionize flight safety across industries.
(Cover via CFP)