Company's aerial drones get one step closer to full autonomy Metal Tech News – April 28, 2021
Exyn Technologies Inc. is the first company in the world to achieve a level 4 autonomous drone, the most sophisticated aerial robotics system capable of free-flight exploration without the need for fallback-ready human operators.
According to the standards set by the automotive industry – and recently updated by Exyn experts for aerial applications – an overview of autonomy levels is categorized from levels 0 – 5.
The Levels of Aerial Autonomy Version 1.0 are:
• Level 0 – No autonomy: pilot is required to directly operate the system with 100% stick inputs. System can provide altitude control, has no response to obstacles, no understanding of positioning, and cannot maintain flight without direct control from a pilot.
• Level 1 – Pilot assist: pilot is still required to operate the system with 100% stick inputs. System can maintain flight without direct control from pilot and has the capability to stabilize vertically. No response to obstacles but is capable of estimating orientation and altitude.
• Level 2 – Partial autonomy: pilot can fly or activate system to operate autonomously, autonomy is still contingent on human input. System can provide stable vertical and horizontal positioning and is capable of sensing and warning of oncoming obstacles. Is able to estimate orientation and altitude much like level 1. Is able to maintain flight without a pilot and uses sensors to determine position.
• Level 3 – Conditional autonomy: the first level in which an operator is able to designate points of interest and the system can accomplish simple functions under limited conditions. Is able to sense and avoid instead of warn allowing for more self-reliance. Can detect basic obstacles and is capable of estimating its relative position and orientation, can only avoid walls.
• Level 4A – High autonomy: operator is now capable of setting areas of interest with little to no input. System can fly under limited conditions and can determine its own points of interest without human input. Can sense and navigate obstacles with an onboard sensor to detect the environment in 3D allowing underground exploration without GPS.
• Level 4B – High autonomy: similar to 4A, however, drone is capable of identifying obstacles and can "think" about cause and effect of such obstacles. System is also capable of differentiating between dust and trees and does not categorize objects as all-same.
• Level 4C – High autonomy: similar to 4A and 4B, drone is now further refined in calculating objectives and can identify and reason solutions for navigation. System is now capable of navigating smoky buildings and can identify people in need.
• Level 5 – Full autonomy: operator sets objective. System flies under all conditions. Can sense and navigate much like Level 4. Complete understanding of environment and can fly through any environment.
Exyn autonomous aerial robot systems for complex, GPS-denied industrial environments have now achieved level 4A, the highest documented level of aerial autonomy.
Unlike previous industry standards of aerial autonomy that use waypoints and multiple flights to obtain adequate intelligence, Exyn's drones are completely self-reliant for open-ended exploration and do not require any human interaction during flight.
"The ability for UAVs to fly beyond the operator's visual line of sight has been a milestone in achieving true pilotless autonomy. Most players in this space have achieved level 2 or perhaps level 3 autonomy at best," said Exyn Technologies CEO Nader Elm. "Which in the best cases necessitates persistent communications and a fallback-ready human operator to intervene or direct the system to complete the mission."
This is a major step up from previous level 3 standards in which a human operator or driver is required to be present and available to take control of the system at any time.
"Our systems are not only the most sophisticated available commercially worldwide, but the unique capabilities we possess are fundamentally necessary for safe and successful operation in the most challenging of environments," said Elm. "This has been the missing link to maximizing the success of critical applications, such as industrial inspections, search and rescue missions and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) for government operations."
Drones have seen a boom in use since the capabilities and ease of use have improved. Commercial models for private or recreational use easily represent just how far the technology has come, yet the standards of autonomy show just how much further we need to go.
Support drones for firefighters, search and rescue teams in the wilderness, special forces or military reconnaissance, fallout exploration, or disaster support, the potential of drone technology continues to expand as the capability of these hovering helpers grows.
"People have been talking about level 4 autonomy in driverless cars for some time, but having that same degree of intelligence condensed onboard a self-sufficient UAV is an entirely different challenge in and of itself," said Jason Derenick, CTO at Exyn Technologies. "Achieving Level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous systems-this is when the drone can demonstrate 100% control in an unbounded environment without any input from a human operator whatsoever."
Exyn has already seen incredible success with its autonomous drone technology over the last several months, partnering with Australian C.R. Kennedy, one of the largest providers of survey equipment in the Outback; mapping impossible underground zones at Rupert Resources' Pahtavaara mine in Finland, completing the mapping of 30 stopes in just three days with a single drone; and finally teaming up with mining equipment and technologies giant Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology to streamline the process of creating future fully autonomous underground mining operations.
"Exyn's latest technology demonstration pushes the boundary of what can be done with autonomous flying systems in situations where GPS is not available. Getting aerial systems to fly reliably in cluttered environments is extremely difficult and manual piloting in underground settings is often impossible," said University of Pennsylvania, Computer and Information Science Department Professor Camillo Taylor. "Having a solution that allows human operators to task these systems at a very high level without needing piloting expertise opens up a number of applications in autonomous inspection of mines and other critical infrastructure."
Exyn expects to roll out its level 4 drones over the next few months.