Aviation researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia are developing an information system to help Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) make safer emergency landings and better enable their wider commercial use. Dr. Luis Mejias Alvarez said UAVs could not fly in commercial airspace over populated areas because they lacked the ability to sense and avoid other air traffic, and had no ability to make a safe landing in an emergency.

"UAV flight plans are set pre-flight, and if something goes wrong and they need to land, they have no way to determine where the safest landing spot is," he said. He expects that the system the team is developing will fit UAVs with a higher level of intelligence so that they can both sense and avoid other traffic and determine appropriate landing spots should the need arise.

The research would also be applicable to commercial aviation. During emergencies, pilots focused on regaining as much control of their aircraft as possible, and there was a need for a system to help them choose appropriate landing sites. When things go wrong with an aircraft while it's in flight, a pilot has to try to manipulate a lot of instruments to gain control of their aircraft.

The focus of their attention is on the instruments within the cockpit. It's very difficult to also visually scout around the surrounding area to find the best possible places to land, particularly when the terrain below may be unfamiliar to the pilot. The QUT GPS-based system will incorporate a camera to pinpoint to the pilot any larger, vacant spaces that would provide landing options.

If pilots could be alerted to potential landing spots on a simple screen, as well as the best way to approach them, it would help ease a very stressful situation and assist pilots to choose the best landing spots.