The capability to ‘‘detect and avoid’’ potential collisions is one of the main technical challenges restricting widespread operations of unmanned aircraft into non-segregated airspaces. In fact, to operate into prescribed environments, an unmanned aircraft needs an onboard technology to replace the capability of the human pilot to ‘‘see and avoid’’ collision hazards. Such a technology is a ‘‘sense and avoid’’ system. This article focuses on the ‘‘avoid function’’ of such a system and proposes a suitable solution. The approach to the problem is to schematize a generic obstacle through a moving ellipsoid that represents the region of space the unmanned aircraft must not violate. The obtained solution enables situations of potential conflict to be detected and avoided through a set of such as speed changes in magnitude and/or direction. Thousands of test cases have been considered to validate this solution. Simulations show that the proposed algorithm is able to detect and avoid situations of potential conflict in the three-dimensional space and in real-time, even without the assistance of a human operator. As such, it can be considered as a fundamental step for the development of a prototype of ‘‘sense and avoid’’ system for promoting the integration of unmanned aircraft into non-segregated airspaces.
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