Bee-inspired landing system will make planes safer

30 Jun 2014

A new aircraft landing system developed by QBI researchers is fully independent of outside technology, meaning it will be harder to block or hack, improving passenger safety.

QBI researchers were inspired by bees to create the autonomous system, which uses visual cues from cameras to control landings.

The project was run by Saul Thurrowgood in Professor Mandyam Srinivasan’s Neuroscience of Vision and Aerial Robotics laboratory, and has already had successful flight trials.

Mr Thurrowgood said the landing system differed from other autonomous techniques because it was fully independent from outside technology like laser-range sensors, radio beacons or GPS signals.

“This system is totally independent of GPS signals, which can be blocked or hacked, and is a start for aircraft to independently understand their surroundings,” Mr Thurrowgood said.

“The system used cameras mounted to the front of an aircraft with a two-metre wingspan.

“The plane used the visual system to guide itself, sense its altitude, control its throttle and shut itself off when it landed.

“This research provides the option of having different types of sensing; if one isn’t working then the pilot has something else to fall back on. All commercial aircraft need to have backup systems.”

Mr Thurrowgood said he took cues from bee biology to create the system.

“Bees use optic flow for their descent – using the rate of motion beneath them to guide their landing - and recent testing also shows that they may also use stereo vision for their touchdown, which is using two eyes to judge distance,” Mr Thurrowgood said.

“We have incorporated both of these techniques in our automatic landing system, but modified them for use in a fixed-wing aircraft.”

The study was supported by the Australian Research Council, the US Army Research Office and by a Queensland Premier’s Fellowship. Findings of the research are published in the Journal of Field Robotics.

Media: QBI Director of Advancement Mikaeli Costello, 0401 580 685,; Researcher Saul Thurrowgood, +61 7 3346 7862,; Professor Mandyam Srinivasan, +61 7 3346 6322, 0434 603 082,