Autonomous operations of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs (quadrotors), require safety modules to alert a human operator of a critical system state, or even take over control of the vehicle entirely to initiate a pre-defined safety maneuver during an emergency (e.g. an emergency landing when a radio link is lost). This is especially important when operating close to the ground, where safe maneuvering around obstacles is a major challenge (e.g. flight through vegetation), and the operator might not see the vehicle at all times. A system health and telemetry monitoring module onboard the micro air vehicle has been developed to monitor critical system components and transmit system health data to a human operator via a base station computer.

The safety system consists of two parts. The first part is a system monitor that runs on the quadrotor UAV flight computer to analyze system health. If a critical state is detected, the module triggers a safety alert to initiate emergency behaviors like hover in place or emergency landing.

The second part is a monitoring module on a base station computer that receives live data from a quadrotor UAV about its internal states (battery level, flight status, planned behavior, etc.) via a wireless link. The module has to monitor and analyze the incoming data and make emergency notifications to the operator if a critical event occurs (e.g. battery power is bellow critical threshold, or the vehicle has exceeded its pre-programmed maximum range).

System health monitoring to simultaneously alert human operators and trigger onboard emergency maneuvers is critical for safe flight of autonomous aerial systems, including small UAVs or spacecraft.

This work was done by Roland Brockers of Caltech and Brayden Hollis for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to NPO-49233.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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