A shout out to an old university mate of mine, Dan Wilson, who has completed his PhD on a drone that has successfully docked to another drone in mid-air – a world first!

Dan and his drone that has successfully docked to a drogue being dragged behind another drone
Dan and his drone that has successfully docked to a drogue being dragged behind another drone

The drone has a camera which detects infra-red markers positioned on drogue and on the lead-drone. It then processes this imagery to work out which lights below to which thing, as is then able determine the relative position of the lead drone and the drogue shoot. Once it has a high enough degree of confidence it will make an attempt to dock with it. The video below explains it much better:

The development would allow drones to fly continuously and be refuelled mid-air which opens up a lot of possibilities.

Read more about Dan’s project here.

The idea is interesting to us, as one of the options we are considering for the 2016 Outback Challenge is whether we can deploy a small quadcopter from a larger UAV to retrieve the blood sample, and then dock back with the larger UAV to return home. We believe a separate support and retrieval aircraft will be a simpler solution, but it is interesting to see these developments none the less.

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