Watch This Intelligent Quadcopter Recover After Losing A Prop In Flight

It will be years before Amazon's dream of same day package deliveries via drone will ever become a reality. But you can forget about trying to shoot one down for some free electronics thanks to new software that allows a quadcopter to stay aloft — and on course — even after losing one or more of its propellers.

As demonstrated in this video created by researchers at ETH Zurich, normally when a quadcopter loses one of its propellers it's game over. The software on board that keeps the craft stable doesn't have a clue how to compensate, and down it goes. But thanks to advanced flight algorithms the researchers have developed, this drone not only stays aloft after one of its propellers flies off, it also returns to the last spot where it was hovering.

Remarkably, the researchers claim this intelligent flight control system — which can be added to any quadcopter via a simple software upgrade — works even if it loses two or three propellers. Of course, a quadcopter probably wouldn't have enough lift to stay airborne if that happened, but with this improved software it could help reduce the impact of an unplanned landing, or steer the quadcopter to a safe place to crash. [YouTube via IEEE Spectrum via Robohub]


    I have lost a prop mid-air on my DJI Phantom while it was about 2 meters up and could do nothing while it spiralled out of control. This kind of software should be on every quad.

    Wonder if the payload will make a big difference though, as if Amazon does start using quads to deliver stuff, the different weights might produce unexpected results

    That is the kind of stuff that needs to be in EVERY aircraft! Losing an engine on a traditional aircraft is just as bad as losing one on a VTOL aircraft - It can be catastrophic if said engine is the only thing keeping you in the air!

      I don't think you have thought this through very well.

      On a single engine aircraft, if you loose an engine, no amount of software is going to save you, it is your skills that will save you, if you have been taught properly and maintain those skills, then you will have the skills to conduct a quick search for somewhere to land, and perform an emergency landing in a paddock, road, racetrack, golf course, where ever you can get down. This applies equally as well to fixed wing as well as rotating wing aircraft, although rotating wing aircraft don't glide particularly well if you loose the prop/wing, but if they loose the engine, they can still glide, but the glide ratio is usually not as good as a fixed wing aircraft, though they do have the advantage of being able to land virtually anywhere, a small park for instance.

      In aircraft with multiple engines, you can compensate for the lost engine by the use of rudder in a fixed wing aircraft, I guess software could do this, but a human can do it just as good, you must demonstrate that you can fly an aircraft on a single engine as part of your mulit-engine endorsement flight test (abet the other engine is not actually turned off in the simulated engine failure, only set to idle). If you have done your weight and balance calculation correctly, you should still be able to fly straight and level on that remaining engine(s), and land at the closest airfield.

      On a rotating wing aircraft with multiple engines, the second engine continues to run and turn the blades, although at a reduced thrust, and you should be able to find a suitable landing area, e.g a park, and land safely.

      This skill is taught to every student who learns to fly, if maintained, it greatly increases your chances of surviving a forced landing. No need for software here.

      Last edited 08/12/13 11:56 am

        The problem is that when these things actually happen humans can and have made mistakes. Software can correct those mistakes and ensure a safe landing. While you won't see a computer replicating the miracle on the Hudson by itself they can ensure that the human element does not cost lives

        Last edited 08/12/13 1:00 pm

          Do you have a pilots license? Cause I do, so I do have some idea what I am talking about.

          Last edited 08/12/13 5:32 pm

            As a matter of fact I do. You know as well as I do that a failure in flight can easily be made far worse by human error. If a pilot opts to maintain airspeed rather then the best speed/altitude loss ratio for furthest gliding distance their options become far more limited in terms of what they can do for a safe landing. However software will be able to maintain the best glide distance, automatically calculate airfields within gliding range based on altitude and airspeed and direct the pilot to the nearest airfield or if there is not one within gliding range then direct the pilot to the nearest safe landing site.

            Last edited 08/12/13 8:00 pm

    Great, So now were teaching skynet to become not only self aware but also self healing.

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