The increasing demand to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace is motivated by the rapid growth of the UAS industry, especially small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. Their use however has been limited by the Federal Aviation Administration regulations due to collision risk they pose, safety and regulatory concerns. Therefore, before civil aviation authorities can approve routine UAS flight operations, UAS must be equipped with sense-and-avoid technology comparable to the see-and-avoid requirements for manned aircraft. The sense-and-avoid problem includes several important aspects including regulatory and system-level requirements, design specifications and performance standards, intruder detecting and tracking, collision risk assessment, and finally path planning and collision avoidance. In this dissertation, our primary focus is on developing an collision detection, risk assessment and avoidance framework that is computationally affordable and suitable to run on-board small UAS. To begin with, we address the minimum sensing range for the sense-and-avoid (SAA) system. We present an approximate close form analytical solution to compute the minimum sensing range to safely avoid an imminent collision. The approach is then demonstrated using a radar sensor prototype that achieves the required minimum sensing range. In the area of collision risk assessment and collision prediction, we present two approaches to estimate the collision risk of an encounter scenario. The first is a deterministic approach similar to those been developed for Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance (TCAS) in manned aviation. We extend the approach to account for uncertainties of state estimates by deriving an analytic expression to propagate the error variance using Taylor series approximation. To address unanticipated intruders maneuvers, we propose an innovative probabilistic approach to quantify likely intruder trajectories and estimate the probability of collision risk using the uncorrelated encounter model (UEM) developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory. We evaluate the proposed approach using Monte Carlo simulations and compare the performance with linearly extrapolated collision detection logic. For the path planning and collision avoidance part, we present multiple reactive path planning algorithms. We first propose a collision avoidance algorithm based on a simulated chain that responds to a virtual force field produced by encountering intruders. The key feature of the proposed approach is to model the future motion of both the intruder and the ownship using a chain of waypoints that are equally spaced in time. This timing information is used to continuously re-plan paths that minimize the probability of collision. Second, we present an innovative collision avoidance logic using an ownship centered coordinate system. The technique builds a graph in the local-level frame and uses the Dijkstra's algorithm to find the least cost path. An advantage of this approach is that collision avoidance is inherently a local phenomenon and can be more naturally represented in the local coordinates than the global coordinates. Finally, we propose a two step path planner for ground-based SAA systems. In the first step, an initial suboptimal path is generated using A* search. In the second step, using the A* solution as an initial condition, a chain of unit masses connected by springs and dampers evolves in a simulated force field. The chain is described by a set of ordinary differential equations that is driven by virtual forces to find the steady-state equilibrium. The simulation results show that the proposed approach produces collision-free plans while minimizing the path length. To move towards a deployable system, we apply collision detection and avoidance techniques to a variety of simulation and sensor modalities including camera, radar and ADS-B along with suitable tracking schemes.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Electrical and Computer Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





unmanned aircraft system, small UAS, sense and avoid, minimum sensing range, airborne collision detection and avoidance, collision detection, collision risk assessment, collision avoidance, conflict detection, conflict avoidance, path planning