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A project is launched to make drones autonomous

April 8, 2021 - Source : NEWS

Student teams affiliated with Professor Giovanni Beltrame (Department of Computer and Software Engineering) are increasingly busy these days! Part of Professor Beltrame’s team is completing preparations to participate in the IGLUNA project this July, while another is beginning work that will eventually enable unmanned drones to fly freely - with the blessing of Transport Canada.

Giovanni Beltrame_drone
Software developed by Professor Giovanni Beltrame’s team will be inside a computer attached to the drone's head.

In collaboration with Sebastian Fischmeister’s team at the University of Waterloo and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC)’s AI for Logistics program, the Polytechnique Montréal group’s goal is to create an autonomous landing system for drones that can operate entirely within a small computer attached to any commercial drone.

Professor Beltrame explains: “The main objective is to ensure that when a drone encounters an in-flight problem, it’s able to visualize its environment and land without too much trouble.” The tool will also enable the drone to avoid flying over the heads of humans below, maintaining instead a distance of at least 30 metres.

In order to accomplish this feat, the Polytechnique team will develop an on-board intelligence tool: a software program linked to the drone’s flight controller. It will use measurements from the drone’s accelerometers and gyroscopes, as well as images from two cameras attached to the drone itself, for calculations. The latter equipment represents a significant challenge, given that the computer and cameras require a certain amount of resources, yet must also be as light as possible.

If the project is able to deliver on all its promises, technology will be one step closer to the time when drones can fly autonomously, for example to deliver urgent packages. The solutions developed through this project may also be incorporated into commercial drones, in order to prevent them from flying through security-sensitive facilities or airspace, such as near airports or highways.

The three-year project has a total budget of approximately $1.5 million. At Polytechnique Montréal, the student team will integrate all academic levels: at least four doctoral students, two postdoctoral fellows, one Master’s student and one undergraduate student.

The cybersecurity team is actively involved

Simultaneous to the drone project, Professors Gabriela Nicolescu and José Fernandez (Department of Computer and Software Engineering), will work on the cybersecurity aspect of the endeavour, ensuring that the computer tools embedded in autonomous drones are free from flaws that could prevent them from successfully completing their missions.

“Security is a central aspect of drone operation. Our team will offer both software and hardware solutions to improve the protection level of on-board equipment,” comments Professor Nicolescu.

Nicolescu’s team is also hoping to equip drones with rapid and accurate attack-detection capabilities.

Meanwhile, researchers from NRC’s Digital Technologies Research Centre will provide validation on indoor and outdoor flight and security elements of the entire project.

Ultimately, the Polytechnique team is hoping to provide Transport Canada with a series of technical and validation documents that can be used as an industry standard… all of which brings humanity closer to the era when drones will be able to fly autonomously in the friendly skies.

Learn more

Professor Giovanni Beltrame’s expertise

Professor José Fernandez’s expertise

Professor Gabriela Nicolescu’s expertise


Project page on the NRC website

Suggested Reading

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Landing in Switzerland – before even the Moon or Mars!

December 7, 2016

Robotics Programming: An Article by a Polytechnique Montréal Professor on the Cover of “Computer” Magazine