My Navigation Buddy is a Drone!

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There’s a lot that’s being discussed about the coming days of autonomous vehicles. And there’s a lot that’s also being discussed about drone technology and the challenges to aviation security. But what happens when these two forthcoming major technologies decide to join hands? That’s a tech marriage that many major companies are working on. One of the… (Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smoothgroover22/12443206554)

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There’s a lot that’s being discussed about the coming days of autonomous vehicles. And there’s a lot that’s also being discussed about drone technology and the challenges to aviation security. But what happens when these two forthcoming major technologies decide to join hands? That’s a tech marriage that many major companies are working on.

One of the greatest contentions of the autonomous vehicle industry is safety. The prime aspect of autonomous vehicles is the smartness with which they can communicate with their immediate surroundings and avoid collisions. Sensor technologies are being much discussed about and researched – this especially after a Tesla auto car was involved in a crash with a trailer. Its sensors were unable to detect a tractor trailer that was driving perpendicular to its path and killed its passenger in the process, as per a report published in The Verge.

While sensors play a great role in managing an autonomous vehicle’s movement, having a navigation buddy in a drone flying above it can help avert such incidents.

A drone and a car – the marriage of safe travel

Technologists have suggested and are testing the use of drones that can fly above an autonomous vehicle. The drone is fitted with a camera and can monitor hazards along the travel route of the vehicle – be it potholes, road blocks, accident sites and other vehicles coming in the way – and communicate instructions in real time to the car’s intelligent system. Such regular feedback from a drone flying above the vehicle will help it detect obstructions that go undetected by sensors and offer a safer travel experience to passengers.

Having a drone buddy assisting in navigating an autonomous vehicle will help minimize the challenges faced by the automotive to a large extent. Danger or hazard situations data captured from the drone can also be used by the vehicle to plan its routes, lanes and travel path ahead of time to avoid situations such as collision, breakdown, finding an open parking space ahead, etc.

Renault Kwid concept

Renault’s Kwid, a mini SUV and auto gear transmission vehicle, earned a great presence in the Indian market. In the recent Delhi Auto Expo held in India, Renault unveiled its Renault Kwid Concept with a flying companion docked to its roof. This drone comes with a camera and can help the vehicle find open parking spaces, scout traffic, take photographs of the landscape and also examine road obstacles to help the vehicle navigate better.

In 2013, Renault filed for a patent in this technology against patent application number FR2986647A3. The invention proposes the use of an observation drone that can help acquire images of the surrounding environment of a vehicle and provide real time inputs for effective navigation.

These figures from Renault’s patent application FR2986647A3 offers a perspective view of the vehicle accompanied by the drone.

These figures from Renault’s patent application FR2986647A3 offers a perspective view of the vehicle accompanied by the drone.

Ford, DJI sign up for more

Automobile major Ford and drone-maker DJI have joined hands to drive innovation in smart drone-to-vehicle software. They are working towards creating a rapidly deployable surveying system for use by the United Nations in emergency zones. Ford Smart Mobility plans to indulge in developing next level connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles for Ford with its drone integration ideas.

In a first move towards this, Ford and DJI have signed up to assist in creating a model that will help them deploy drones in emergency zones identified by the United Nations. Ford is working on utilizing its F-150 to serve as a drone base station to deploy drones for surveillance purposes.

Ford has a patent US9409644B2 related to this technology which describes a vehicle that is led by a drone to an earmarked location. The drone helps identify traffic and road conditions that may exist along a predicted traveling path and assists a vehicle with driving instructions when operating on the autonomous mode.

These figures from Ford’s patent US9409644B2 describe the communication method between a drone and a vehicle.

These figures from Ford’s patent US9409644B2 describe the communication method between a drone and a vehicle.

General Electric

General Electric has joined the fray of Ford and Renault with its own patent-pending application US20150158513A1 describing an aerial camera system (attached to a drone) that is connected to an autonomous vehicle. This drone flies ahead of the vehicle, collecting information of traffic conditions along the route to be travelled. It generates warning signals of hazards or may automatically control the movement of the vehicle if it turns unresponsive.

These figures from General Electric’s patent application US20150158513A1 offers a perspective view of the drone flying ahead of the vehicle.

These figures from General Electric’s patent application US20150158513A1 offers a perspective view of the drone flying ahead of the vehicle.

Rinspeed ΣTOS – A self-driving BMW i8

Swiss company Rinspeed is imagining the combination of a driverless car-quadcopter where a drone flies around the vehicle it is attached to, clicking pictures of the vehicle in its surroundings. Rinspeed Σtos is a self-driving BMW i8 in which a drone pad (made of Gorilla glass) is integrated, used for deploying a DJI drone. The drone can be used by the passengers to pick-up ordered goods from the market and click pictures. However, Σtos doesn’t seem to use the drone to assist the vehicle in any manner for now.

Safran & Valeo’s self-driving car systems

Safran is a leading French company that has produced tactical drone systems for over 15 years to aid various military missions. The company has now collaborated with French auto parts maker Valeo to integrate drone software into self-driving vehicle platforms by the end of 2020.

From military missions to agricultural surveillance, construction management to study of the ecology, from logistics support to providing medical aid in emergencies, drones are making their presence and need felt in all spheres. Now, with its marriage into the automobile family, drones are set to create a historic revolution in the way we travel. Litigations have just opened up while the chest of intellectual property in this space is beginning to fill up. With autonomous vehicles being tested and expected to enter the mainstream in the next year or two, drone technology is gearing up for an exciting phase of research and development.

Ashar Kamal
Ashar Kamal

Ashar is a mechanical engineer by profession and a traveler by heart. He is an automobile freak who loves to get his hands dirty in restoring a scrapped vehicle to its original working condition. A patent searcher and analyst, he enjoys reading and writing about automotive technologies.


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