New study demonstrates multi-UAV cooperative flight for deliveries

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Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a modular solution for handling large packages with a team of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

According to the team behind the study, the solution eliminates the need for a complex fleet of UAVs of varying sizes to lift objects.

Using an adaptive control algorithm, the strategy could allow a wide range of packages to be delivered using a combination of several standard-sized UAVs.

As well as simplifying the UAV fleet, the project also aims to provide more robust drone operations and reduce the noise and safety concerns involved in operating large autonomous drones in busy urban environments.

Jonathan Rogers, professor of avionics integration at Georgia Tech’s Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, said: “A delivery truck could carry a dozen drones in the back, and depending on how heavy a particular package is, it might use as many as six drones to carry the package.

“That would allow flexibility in the weight of the packages that could be delivered and eliminate the need to build and maintain several different sizes of delivery drones.”

A Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student monitors the control algorithm that enables the UAVs to lift the package

A centralised computer system would monitor each of the drones lifting a package, sharing information about location and the thrust being provided by the motors. The control system would coordinate commands for navigation and delivery of the package.

Rogers added: “The idea is to make multi-UAV cooperative flight easy from the user perspective. We take care of the difficult issues using the onboard intelligence, rather than expecting a human to precisely measure the package weight, centre of gravity, and drone relative positions.

“We want to make this easy enough so that a package delivery driver could operate the system consistently.”

Furthermore, the team said the system might also be used by the military to resupply small groups of soldiers in the field.

The research was supported, in part, by a National Science Foundation graduate student fellowship and by the Hives independent research and development programme of the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

A paper on the research has been submitted to the Journal of Aircraft.

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