NASA’s Develops SAFEGUARD Safety Net Technology for Drones

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Martin Sekula, David Piatak, Pat Weymouth and Richard Smith are wiring the instrumentation on the 3% scale model of the Space Launching System.

Flying drone aircraft are no longer rare sightings these day. In fact, their may be one above you somewhere taking pictures at this very moment. This begs the question: how do we keep our skies safe?

Scientists at NASA Langley Research Center have developed a breakthrough technology called Safeguard that can alleviate hazards with unmanned aircrafts (UA) flying beyond their authorized perimeters and into no-fly zones. Safeguard works by continuously detecting a UAs proximity to virtual perimeters established around no-fly-zones (i.e., stay-out or stay-in regions and altitude limits), and taking action to guarantee the perimeters are not breached.

The “Safeguard” program offers a virtual safety net. Users set parameters for a drone, and the machine checks those parameters to make sure it’s flying where it should be. If it ventures to the edge of the boundary, it’s supposed to fly back, and if it doesn’t do that, the safety net sends the drone crashing to the ground before it crosses into a “no-fly-zone”.

Other boundary limitation tools for drones, like geofencing, rely on GPS signals hooked up to the drone’s autopilot. They work fine most of the time, so long as the GPS signal is strong and the autopilot doesn’t act up. When it does, a system that relies on both to keep the drone from wandering away is in trouble, so Safeguard instead doesn’t rely on them. Instead, NASA vaguely says it relies on “rigorous mathematics and works independently of the onboard autopilot.” So even if the GPS or the autopilot on the drone fails, the Safeguard can stop the robot from wandering, saving it (and its pilot) the embarrassment of crashing on the White House lawn.

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