By Jacob Davisson, Head of Engineering

Last week, I discussed the benefits you’ll see from the way that Aertos™ manages flight dynamics. In this week’s First Things First, I thought it would be fun to discuss fly-by-wire aircraft (such as the Aertos™) and the history of autonomous behaviors and vehicular autonomy at Digital Aerolus.

From the founding of Digital Aerolus, vehicular autonomy has been the driving force in everything we do. We designed the Folded Geometry Framework™ (FGF) to manage vehicular state vectors (for us, the word ‘vectors’ means something much more complex than for others) with the understanding that FGF is required for the set of autonomous behaviors and functions we then envisioned, have since implemented and are implementing for the future. Empathy Filtering™ is one way to show vehicular autonomy across the Aertos™ product line — and yet, it is only part of our vehicular autonomy story.

What does Digital Aerolus mean when we say autonomy? Others have written books to answer this question. At “level 5” autonomy, a platform needs to act entirely without human input and respond to any number of complex and unanticipated emergencies. There are currently no level 5 autonomous platforms in the world. We are working towards this ultimate goal, which is enabled by FGF and implemented in what we call the Mind of Motion (MoM).

Today, an autonomous vehicle will intervene on its own to perform many actions, such as: preventing a crash, maintaining position in a hostile environment like entering a bridge deck with wind-induced eddy currents, flying a flight plan without GPS (such as a sewer pipe or cave), recognizing areas of inspection interest (such as cracks or bolts), or any number of other things that might best be automated. There is a lot of talk, some of it potentially misleading, about autonomy and autonomous flying vehicles going on today — let’s look at how Digital Aerolus fits into the big picture.

Over time, flying vehicles have transitioned from being mechanically-actuated devices to being fly-by-wire, meaning that a computer is required between the human and the control surfaces and motors to create primary stability. UAVs are different in that all modern hovering platforms are strictly fly-by-wire. Digital Aerolus does something more significant. The Aertos™ flies assuming that all external sensors used for calculating stability are compromised or unavailable. This is largely impossible without the multidimensional approach of FGF. These advanced operators allow us to use deep geometry in our autonomous objects, descriptions, and behavior — in short, MoM.  

At the simplest level, our autonomous systems manage thrust, attitude, and yaw in a way that allows the UAV to computationally intervene should the pilot attempt a maneuver that would crash the drone. This same autonomous system helps manage the response when certain obstacles, such as wind, walls, people, and ceilings, are detected by the FGF™ — all while assuming no external sensors are working. We can sense these challenges to flight and appropriately react to them — like backing off from a ceiling, being caught while landing, or responding to the airflow in a cave — all without GPS. 

Our new Aertos™ 130IR platform is still intrinsically stable. Now it is also locally aware. The improved vision, measurement, and awareness systems allow the Aertos™ to respond with more autonomy, without requiring the pilot to react. When you fly in challenging, demanding, and GPS-denied environments, we are right there helping to get you in and out safely.

Since the Aertos™ now sees and feels where it is going, it is the only drone in the world that can fly in the decking of a bridge. Getting into the decking of a bridge is the first real challenge due to the eddy swirls of air generated by wind passing through the bridge. We can sense the bridge, feel these bouncing forces, and respond with autonomous assistance to get the Aertos™ safely inside the bridge, with the pilot or inspection engineer largely unaware of the formidable forces acting on the platform.  Of course, we can also fly stably once inside the decking, a small space that contains a maze of steel and concrete.  

Our customers have chosen to send a UAV into their inspection spaces versus a human being for safety, frequency of inspections, liability, and cost reasons. Many of these environments are simply too dangerous for humans. We have designed the Aertos™ product line to autonomously feel, see, measure and sense its way into the most challenging and demanding environments.