Autonomous drone swarm and drifting car in perfect harmony

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In case you missed it first time around, here’s a second chance to check out a video (below) from the ZalaZONE Automotive Proving Ground in Hungary, showing a real-time collaboration between a swarm of autonomous drones and an autonomous drifting car, performed by the research teams of BME Automated Drive and CollMot Robotics, on ZalaZONE’s Dynamic Platform. Dr Szalay Zsolt, head of research and innovation at ZalaZONE, provides some more background, below.

When and why was this carried out?

The demo was carried out on the third ZalaZONE Innovation Day on October 1, 2021. ZalaZONE strongly believes there are synergies between ground vehicle automation and aerial vehicle automation. The challenges are overlapping 50%+. The demo was (to our knowledge) the first combination of a fully autonomous drifting vehicle being followed by a drone swarm, fully autonomously.

What is unusual about it? 

Drifting a series production vehicle autonomously is a performance in itself. The control behind it is based on a mathematical model describing the physical behavior of a drifting vehicle. The novelty is to prove our capabilities to control vehicle motion over the grip limit.

By understanding the swarm behavior of animals (birds, fishes, insects, etc), we have developed an algorithm-based autonomous control capability for drones (of up to even 100 such units). This demo is a simplified combination of both revolutionary achievements. Six drones are fully autonomously following the vehicle during an autonomous drifting maneuver.

How might it be beneficial to autonomous vehicle development?

The autonomous drift control is a PCT-patented technology. The solution can increase traffic safety by potentially avoiding accidents that could not have been avoided up to now. Today’s standard ESP systems always bring the vehicle back within the grip limits. This patented solution enables stable vehicle control beyond the adhesion limit. As a result, the potential trajectories of the vehicle are widened. Thus, there can be dangerous traffic situations that a conventional ESP system could not avoid, but an automated sliding mode control (‘drift control’ or ‘ESP+’) could easily avoid.

How exactly was it performed?

Within the vehicle there is a safety driver (in the driver’s seat) and an engineer with a computer. The safety driver drives the vehicle to the starting point of the demo (ZalaZONE’s Dynamic Plate), after which, the safety driver is only holding the ‘dead man’s switch’. Then the computer takes over, controlling the steer-by-wire and drive-by-wire systems. The computer is driving and steering the vehicle throughout the drifting performance. (Please click here to see our first successful drifting.) Meanwhile, the six drones are ‘simply’ following the BMW wherever it goes – even when drifting – just like a beautiful ‘Wiener Walzer’. Please also note that Jean TODT has also recently tested our drifting BMW.

For those interested in learning more, a scientific publication, Implementation and experimental evaluation of a MIMO drifting controller on a test vehicle, describes the research behind the autonomous drifting technology in much greater detail.

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for multiple, market-leading titles at UKi Media & Events (publisher of Autonomous Vehicle International), Anthony has written articles and news covering everything from aircraft, airports and cars, to cruise ships, trains, trucks and even tires!

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