Drone Problems: How To Land

The central principle of both flying and operating systems is “what goes up must come down.”

I am told that anyone can take off and fly an airplane, but it takes a lot of training to be able to safely land again. We see lots of videos of UAV’s launching and flying. Not so many videos of clean landings. And watching people playing with drones is always a long series of bad landings.

We can throw in the biomimetic challenge: birds, bugs, bats, everyone has evolved all kinds of cool landings, in all kinds of conditions, all kinds of surfaces, at any angle and even upside down.

What I’m trying to say is that even a non-expert like me can see why landing is an important problem for UAV researchers.

Justin Thomas and colleagues have published a study of “aggressive maneuvers for perching” for quad copters. If flies can do it, then we’d like copters to do so, too!

His work has several aspects, including the grippers (‘gecko inspired”, naturally), models of the “landing envelope” using such grippers, and planning algorithms to command the approach path.

This approach is quite general, it “can be extended to any aggressive maneuver.” For instance, I could imagine a ‘perching’ maneuver might be used for gathering environmental samples.

And speaking of landing, this DARPA demo is really cool:

Frankly, I’m surprised this feature wasn’t made standard equipment a long time ago.


  1. Thomas, Justin, Giuseppe Loianno, Morgan Pope, Elliot W. Hawkes, Matthew A. Estrada, Hao Jiang, Mark R. Cutkosky, and Vijay Kumar, Planning and Control of Aggresive Maneuvers for Perching on Inclined and Vertical Surfaces. 2015.

 (Thanks to Evan Ackerman yet again for pointers to these projects.)


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