Drones are usually blind—even those carrying cameras rely on a human to navigate safely and spot obstacles. But the autocopter we created used a prototype of a new compact lidar system, TFmini, to detect its surroundings and track other aircraft.

As the drone takes off, you can see the traces of barbed wire fences and trees in the lidar image below. Later, the radar detects another drone nearby and tracks its progress. In other tests the system showed it could detect a small single-propeller plane and an ultralight aircraft.

The technology, from Benewake, could possibly address a major challenge holding up dreams like JD (JD.com) and Baidu plan to deliver packages by drone in China. It is in great need that systems that enable drones to detect and avoid other aircraft before they can be allowed to operate out of the sight of supervising humans.

Similar with prototype driverless cars relying heavily on lidar, they uses laser light to build up a picture of the world. As far as I am concerned, the principle could also be used in drones, and it tests quite well. What is more, electronically scanning radar can’t collect such a detailed image of the shape of objects to tell what kind of obstacle it is facing.

And I strongly recommend you to test the method I perform in drones with TFmini lidar and share with me.

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