Las Vegas, NV — During their presentation at this year’s TechCrunch Battlefield at CES2015, SkySpecs launched a product that has solved the problem of obstacle avoidance for small UAVs.
The product is called Guardian, and SkySpecs co-founder Daniel Ellis described it as “a platform agnostic sensor/software suite that automatically detects obstacles in the environment and avoids them. It alters the flight path even if the operator is trying to crash the drone, or if a wind gust comes and pushes it toward the obstacle.”
As proof, he showed a small video demonstration that portrayed a roto-copter (with what he said is a LiDAR sensor on top) moving away from a person when he gets too close to the UAV.
The technology can supposedly be mounted on pretty much any UAV with a flight controller in it. If you think the current incarnation is too large, SkySpecs thinks so too. This is why they’re working on a smaller version for smaller UAVs. With any luck, the smaller system would be less expensive than a LiDAR system, too.
During his presentation, Ellis positioned the system as a response to the challenges of using UAVs to scan and inspect infrastructure. While UAVs are undoubtedly useful for projects like inspecting wind turbines or power cables, he said that UAVs still require a pilot and new pilots are prone to crashes. A system like Guardian could allow companies to use their existing employees as pilots without fear of expensive crashes.
Why couldn’t you just set the UAV up to fly autonomously? Ellis believes that current tech is inadequate. “If they don’t have obstacle avoidance and you program an autonomous flight path,” Ellis says, “[the UAV]can’t see anything but its GPS signal. It’s going to be pretty difficult for it to fly itself.”
As to the future, Ellis explained that the company is working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a system that will allow UAVs to avoid other aircraft. He also explained some even more ambitious plans–like allowing companies to fly drones indoors.
“We’d love to license this to manufacturers and get these sensors built into drones before you buy them. So then we can develop better software to do more things, so then you can deploy a swarm of drones to fly through buildings, fly around wind turbines, and our software will provide the intelligence to do that.”