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Title:
ROTORCRAFT COLLISION AVOIDANCE DETECTION SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2022/157371
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An object detection system and/or collision avoidance and/or surveillance and/or safety system sensor system for a rotorcraft, comprising a detector () which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

Inventors:
WIGGLESWORTH IAN (GB)
Application Number:
PCT/EP2022/051518
Publication Date:
July 28, 2022
Filing Date:
January 24, 2022
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
INFOMODE LTD (GB)
International Classes:
B64C27/46; B64C27/00; B64D45/00; B64D47/00; G05D1/10; G08G5/00
Foreign References:
US20200001979A12020-01-02
US20180075762A12018-03-15
US20200135037A12020-04-30
EP2738090A22014-06-04
EP2433866A22012-03-28
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BRYERS LLP (GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A collision avoidance system for a rotorcraft, comprising a proximity detector which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

2. A system as claimed in claim I , comprising means for determining the angular position of a rotary wing.

3. A system as claimed in claim I or claim 2, comprising wireless communication means for transmitting information.

4. A rotorcraft comprising one or more rotors, each rotor comprising a plurality of rotary wings, in which at least one rotary wing on the or at least one of the rotors is provided with a proximity detector, and in which the rotorcraft further comprising means for determining the angular position of rotary wings.

5. A rotorcraft as claimed in claim 4, in which all rotary wings on a rotor are provided with a proximity detector.

6. A rotorcraft as claimed in claim 4 or claim 5, in which the rotorcraft is a helicopter or a gyrocopter.

7. A helicopter blade object detection system where a blade mounted detector operating with no physical power or data connection to the main aircraft performs detection of external objects such that this information can be wirelessly communicated to the aircraft.

8. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which the or each detector is powered via airflow generated on rotation.

9. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which the detector determinates external object range therefrom.

10. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which detection includes the determination of external object angular position relative to the aircraft.

1 1. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which the detector also receives information from the aircraft.

12. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which information communicated from the detector to the aircraft enables a warning to be issued.

13. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which information communicated from the detector to the aircraft enables warnings to be issued comprising one or more of graphical, audio, resistance, feedback, haptic feedback and vibrational.

14. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, in which the detector detects objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating wing/blade.

15. A system or rotorcraft according to claim 14, in which the detection unit determines Inertial Navigation roll, pitch, yaw data to detect objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating blade.

16. A system or rotorcraft according to any preceding claim, comprising means for causing a craft to take evasive action.

17. An automatic navigation system for a rotorcraft comprising positional sensors provided on or by one or more rotary wings.

18. A system as claimed in claim 17, in which a target location is set, with the rotorcraft manoeuvring around objects autonomously using positional data as input. A rotorcraft sensor system, comprising one or more sensors mountable on, or forming part of, a rotary wing. A system as claimed in claim 19, formed as a collision detection system, an object avoidance system, an object detection system, a proximity warning system, a surveillance system, or combinations of one or more of such functions.

17

Description:
ROTORCRAFT COLLISION AVOIDANCE DETECTION SYSTEM

The present invention relates generally to a detection system and particularly, although not exclusively, to an object detection system and/or collision avoidance and/or surveillance and/or safety system for rotorcraft such as helicopters and gyrocopters.

To improve safety it would be desirable for the pilot/crew/controller of manned or unmanned rotorcraft to have a warning of the proximity of the tips of rotary wings/blades to external objects. Alternatively or additionally one or more sensors may be provided as part of a surveillance system for rotorcraft.

According to an aspect of the present invention there is provided a sensor system for a rotorcraft, comprising a detector which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

According to an aspect of the present invention there is provided a rotorcraft sensor system, comprising a detector which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

A system may, for example, be formed as a collision detection system, an object avoidance system, an object detection system, or a surveillance system, or combinations of such functions.

According to an aspect of the present invention there is provided an object detection system for a rotorcraft, comprising a detector which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

According to an aspect of the present invention there is provided a collision avoidance system for a rotorcraft, comprising a proximity detector which is mountable on, or forms part of, a rotary wing.

In some embodiments the intent of mounting the sensors on blades is to give a more accurate picture of the surroundings e.g. to prevent the blades colliding with external objects as the blades extend beyond the airframe. This could be especially relevant if there is potential movement of the blades when rotating which may counter any inbuilt offset to cater for blade length.

The detector may be mounted on a rotating blade so detection will cover all 360 degrees.

Each blade may have multiple object detectors mounted at any location on each rotating blade. These may be pointing outwards, downwards or some other direction so detection may, for example, cover all 360 degrees as the blade rotates.

In some embodiments, once an obstacle, surface, feature, formation, threat or the like is detected the system may exert control exerted on a flight motor to prevent a collision. A warning may accompany emergency, automatic evasive action.

The system may comprise means for determining the angular position of a rotary wing e.g. the position of blades relative to a helicopter fuselage. This may be used to determine blade bearing so that this can be correlated to the proximity detections and a graphical warning issued showing where the external objects are positioned/located relative to the aircraft. Automatic evasive action may be taken to prevent movement to or initiate automatic movement away from the external object.

The system may comprise wireless communication means for transmitting information.

Data may be transmitted continuously; alternatively or additionally data may be transmitted periodically.

The transmission of data may be automatic or controlled/triggered by user input. In an example, data can be transmitted using a short-range wireless communications protocol such as: ANT, ANT+, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, Cellular, IEEE 802.15.4, IEEE 802.22, ISA 100a, Infrared, ISM Band, Near-Field Communications, RFID, 6L0WPAN, Ultra-Wideband, Wi-Fi, Wireless HART, WirelessHD, WirelessUSB, ZigBee, Z-Wave. Some aspects and embodiments are configured to detect external objects i.e. in general terms monitoring the position of the craft relative to its surroundings.

In some embodiments the present invention provides or relates to active sensors located on blades.

Onboard power generation and/or the use of wireless for data may be provided so that power and data do not have to go via a moving rotor mechanism.

Some embodiments may include the use of wireless technology between the sensor/s and a controlling computer.

In some embodiments the connection between the sensor/s and a flight computer may be wireless.

Warnings may be provided as part of systems formed in accordance with the present invention e.g. audio, graphical, resistance, haptic, vibrational. Resistance could be e.g. resistance to the movement of the pilot controls (Cyclic stick, Collective lever) but may be others. Vibration could be any part of the aircraft in physical contact with the pilot / crew.

Audio and/or graphical warnings may, for example, be provided by a collision avoidance safety system formed in accordance with the present invention.

A graphical warning may for example, be a bird’s eye plot view of a helicopter outline surrounded by a graphical indication of proximity.

The system may rely on information from sensors on the blade/s to a main airframe (i.e., not the rotor blades).

A further aspect provides a rotorcraft comprising one or more rotors, each rotor comprising a plurality of rotary wings, in which at least one rotary wing on the or at least one of the rotors is provided with a proximity detector, and in which the rotorcraft further comprising means for determining the angular position of rotary wings.

In some embodiments all rotary wings on a rotor are provided with a tip proximity detector.

The rotorcraft (including compound rotorcraft) may, for example, be a helicopter, a drone (such as a quadcopter) or a gyrocopter.

The rotorcraft may have a single rotor or may have multiple rotors. For example a main rotor for a helicopter (which may also have a tail rotor), or a quadcopter with four rotors.

In embodiments providing or relating to multiple rotors, the system may cater for filtering out detections from a blade on one rotor detecting the blade on another rota as they coincide.

A further aspect provides a helicopter blade object detection system where a blade mounted detector operating with no physical power or data connection to the main aircraft performs detection of external objects such that this information can be wirelessly communicated to the aircraft.

In aspects and embodiments of the present invention the or each detector may be powered via airflow generated on rotation. Alternatively or additionally onboard power and/or onboard power generation means may be provided.

Energy harvesting devices may, for example, be used to convert motion of the rotor hub/blades to electrical power.

The detector may determinate external object range therefrom.

Detection may include the determination of external object angular position relative to the aircraft. The detector may also receive information from the aircraft.

Information communicated to the aircraft may enable audio warnings to be issued.

Information communicated to the aircraft may enable graphical warnings to be issued.

The detector may detect objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating wing/blade.

Detection unit formed in accordance with the present invention may determine Inertial Navigation roll, pitch, yaw data to detect objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating blade.

A further aspect provides a helicopter blade object detection system where blade mounted detection units operating with no physical power or data connection to the main aircraft perform detection of external objects such that this information can be wirelessly communicated to the aircraft.

The detection units may be powered via airflow generated on blade rotation.

Detection may comprise the determination of external object range from the detection unit sensor.

Detection may include the determination of external object angular position relative to the aircraft.

Detection units may also receive information from the aircraft.

The information communicated to the aircraft may enable audio warnings to be issued.

The information communicated to the aircraft may enable graphical warnings to be issued. The detection unit may detect objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating blade.

The detection unit may determine Inertial Navigation roll, pitch, yaw data to detect objects located in a different plane to that of the rotating blade.

In some aspects and embodiments the present invention proposes the use of a detection unit mounted on each blade to detect the location of external objects.

The unit could, for example, be retro-fitted to existing aircraft as a ‘bolt on’ or built into new rotor blades as part of the production process.

In addition to external object information each detection unit may have knowledge of its angular position relative to the aircraft hull at any time.

Information may be relayed wirelessly back to the cockpit where warnings can be issued to the crew in an audio and or graphical format.

In some embodiments no physical connection is required to the detection unit.

Power may, for example, be supplied via air flow electricity generation.

The angular position of the rotor blade may be detected autonomously via additional downward pointing sensors and a timing mechanism.

The lack of physical connection can provide considerable complexity benefits avoiding needing to relay power and data to / from each blade via the rotor blade drive mechanism.

The system can provide a safety benefit especially useful in training situations. Also, in military situations this could be beneficial where crew are required to fly into confined spaces for surveillance purposes etc. Furthermore, the present invention could, for example, be used to facilitate auto navigation (or be used as part of such a system) of a rotorcraft; for example the possibility of setting a target location with the aircraft manoeuvring around objects autonomously using positional data as input. This may, for example, just relate to positional sensors located on rotating blades; however, other sensors may be used in conjunction with the blade-based sensors in some embodiments.

Some embodiments are not constrained by the detection sensors being just pointing outwards (‘od’ in the diagrams). E.g., pointing downwards to protect against descending onto e.g., power lines etc.

Sensor/s may be pointed in any direction and any number may be located on the blade to allow this.

A further aspect provides a rotorcraft sensor system, comprising one or more sensors mountable on, or forming part of, a rotary wing.

Sensor/detection systems formed in accordance with the present invention may be formed as a collision detection system, an object avoidance system, a proximity warning system, a surveillance system, or combinations of one or more of such functions.

Different aspects and embodiments of the invention may be used separately or together.

Further particular and preferred aspects of the present invention are set out in the accompanying independent and dependent claims. Features of the dependent claims may be combined with the features of the independent claims as appropriate, and in combination other than those explicitly set out in the claims. Each aspect can be carried out independently of the other aspects or in combination with one or more of the other aspects. The present invention will now be more particularly described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

Figure I shows the detection unit components;

Figure 2 shows the movement of the blades to explain the determination of the angular position of the external object;

Figure 3 shows the use of directional sensors to obtain a more accurate information; and

Figure 4 shows a detection system formed according to a further embodiment.

The example embodiments are described in sufficient detail to enable those of ordinary skill in the art to embody and implement the systems and processes herein described. It is important to understand that embodiments can be provided in many alternative forms and should not be construed as limited to the examples set forth herein.

Accordingly, while embodiments can be modified in various ways and take on various alternative forms, specific embodiments thereof are shown in the drawings and described in detail below as examples. There is no intent to limit to the particular forms disclosed. On the contrary, all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the scope of the appended claims should be included. Elements of the example embodiments are consistently denoted by the same reference numerals throughout the drawings and detailed description where appropriate.

Unless otherwise defined, all terms (including technical and scientific terms) used herein are to be interpreted as is customary in the art. It will be further understood that terms in common usage should also be interpreted as is customary in the relevant art and not in an idealised or overly formal sense unless expressly so defined herein. In the following description, all orientational terms, such as upper, lower, radially and axially, are used in relation to the drawings and should not be interpreted as limiting on the invention.

Figures I to 3 relate generally to a helicopter blade object detection system. It being understood that the principles described could be equally well applied to other rotorcraft or intended purposes.

In this helicopter blade (object) detection system individual blades autonomously detect and report external object location information to the aircraft requiring no physical power or data connection to the aircraft.

Detection Unit Components

Figure I (a) shows the detection unit components where all components are colocated. The detection unit may be located with sensors at two or more separate locations - see ‘Determination of Blade Angular Position’ below.

The detection unit is shown mounted underneath the blade which is a likely deployment in the case of a retro fit to an existing aircraft. However, it may be mounted within the body of the blade which would be more likely in the case of deployment to a new aircraft.

It may be preferable for the detection unit to be located at or towards the tip of the blade as this will best provide a clear line of sight to the external world and/or may provide more accurate readings.

Electrical power for the unit components is generated as the blades rotate using the airflow turbine generator ‘gen’.

A control component ‘ctrl’ determines the range of external objects via the outwards pointing detector (‘od’). It may also make use of a downwards pointing detector (‘dd’) to determine the angular position of the blade at any given time. This is described later with reference to Figure 2. The control unit generates warning events using this information.

Warning events are transmitted wirelessly by the transmitter ‘tr’ to the cockpit to alert the crew. The alert mechanism may be via audio and / or graphical means. In the case of graphical means the angular position and range information would be used to alert the crew to the location of the object like on a traditional radar type display. Range information on its own may be used to provide an audio inclination to indicate object proximity.

The outwards pointing detector ‘od’ is shown in Figure I detecting objects in direct line of the blade. However, it may be desirable to use directional sensors to detect objects in some other direction other than direct line. For example, it may be desirable to detect the roll of the helicopter from horizontal and use this information to automatically direct the sensors to detect objects in a generally horizontal direction from the blade tips (which may be in the same horizontal plane as the blades, for example). This is explained in Figure 3 where d2 in Figure 3 (b) is more relevant for collision avoidance than d l in Figure 3 (a). Use of an Inertial Navigation System (INS) within each detection unit would enable this to be automated. See Figure I (b)

It may also be desirable to transmit information from the aircraft to the detection units for example to enable different modes of operation. In this case a detection unit wireless receiver (rec) could be used as shown in Figure I (b)

Determination of Blade Angular Position

In Figure 2 (a) as blade I passes over the rear hull of the aircraft this is detected by the downwards pointing detector ‘dd’ and within the control unit a timer is started. When the same blade next passes over the rear hull this timer is stopped, and the rotation time determined and saved by the control unit. This process continues with each rotation, so the control unit always has up to date knowledge of the latest time for rotation (Tl ). In Figure 2 (b) an object is detected by the outwards pointing detector ‘od’ and range information relayed to the control unit. The control unit knows the timer value at that moment and can use this time value as a proportion of the full rotational time to determine the angular position of the event relative to the hull of the aircraft. In the example shown in Figure 2 the object is detected at Tl / 4 and will therefore be 90 degrees from the hull.

As the aircraft is operated the tilt of the blades may change leading to inaccuracies initiating the timer caused by the downwards pointing detector 'dd' not actually pointing vertically downwards towards the hull. To overcome this the ‘dd’ detector may be located nearer the central hub on the ‘Feathering Hinge’ section of the blade which does not tilt. In this case the whole detection unit may be located here with compensation made for the distance from this location to the blade tip. Alternatively, it may be part located here with the outwards pointing detector ‘od’ located at the blade tip and connected wirelessly to the ‘ctrl’ and ‘dd’ components at the ‘Feathered Hinge’ location - each of the two detector locations having separate power generators as described previously. Alternatively the unit may receive information from the aircraft control systems to relay knowledge of the tilt of the blades as they pass over the hull. This information could be used to compensate for the tilt angle when performing timer calculations.

Embodiments may not be constrained by the detection sensors just pointing outwards (‘od’ in the diagrams). E.g., a sensor may point downwards to protect against descending onto e.g., power lines etc. Sensor/s may be pointed in any direction and have any number located on the blade to allow this.

In the embodiment shown in Figures 4(a) and 4(b) a new detector ‘td’ (timing detector) is shown pointing downwards which takes the role of ‘dd’. This means that ‘dd’ becomes an external object sensor like ‘od’ but in a different direction.

Figures 4(a) and 4(b) show a detection/surveillance unit formed according to a further embodiment. All components are co-located. The detection unit may be located with sensors at two or more separate locations.

The detection unit is shown mounted underneath the blade which is a likely deployment in the case of a retro fit to an existing aircraft. However, it may be mounted within the body of the blade which would be more likely in the case of deployment to a new aircraft.

It may be preferable for the detection unit to be located at or towards the tip of the blade as this will best provide a clear line of sight to the external world and/or may provide more accurate readings.

Electrical power for the unit components is generated as the blades rotate using the airflow turbine generator ‘gen’.

A control component ‘ctrl’ determines the range of external objects via an outwards pointing detector (‘od’) and a downwards pointing detector (‘dd’).

It may also make use of a timing reference detector (‘td’) to determine the angular position of the blade at any given time. The control component generates warning events using this information.

Warning events are transmitted wirelessly by the transmitter ‘tr’ to the cockpit to alert the crew. The alert mechanism may be via audio and / or graphical means. In the case of graphical means the angular position and range information would be used to alert the crew to the location of the object like on a traditional radar type display. Range information on its own may be used to provide an audio inclination to indicate object proximity.

The outwards pointing detector ‘od’ is shown detecting objects in direct line of the blade.

The downwards pointing detector ‘dd’ is shown detecting objects below the blade. It may be desirable to use directional sensors to detect objects in some other direction other than direct line. For example, it may be desirable to detect the roll of the helicopter from horizontal and use this information to automatically direct the sensors to detect objects in a generally horizontal direction from the blade tips (which may be in the same horizontal plane as the blades, for example).

It may also be desirable to transmit information from the aircraft to the detection units for example to enable different modes of operation. In this case a detection unit wireless receiver (rec) could be used.

As blade I passes over the rear hull of the aircraft this is detected by the downwards pointing timing detector ‘td’ and within the control unit a timer is started. When the same blade next passes over the rear hull this timer is stopped, and the rotation time determined and saved by the control unit. This process continues with each rotation, so the control unit always has up to date knowledge of the latest time for rotation (Tl ).

An object is detected for example by the outwards pointing detector ‘od’ and range information relayed to the control unit. The control unit knows the timer value at that moment and can use this time value as a proportion of the full rotational time to determine the angular position of the event relative to the hull of the aircraft.

As the aircraft is operated the tilt of the blades may change leading to inaccuracies initiating the timer caused by the downwards pointing timing detector 'dd' not actually pointing vertically downwards towards the hull. To overcome this the ‘td’ detector may be located nearer the central hub on the ‘Feathering Hinge’ section of the blade which does not tilt. In this case the whole detection unit may be located here with compensation made for the distance from this location to the blade tip. Alternatively, it may be part located here with the external object detectors located on the blade and connected wirelessly to the ‘ctrl’ and ‘td’ components at the ‘Feathered Hinge’ location - each of the two detector locations having separate power generators as described previously. Alternatively the unit may receive information from the aircraft control systems to relay knowledge of the tilt of the blades as they pass over the hull. This information could be used to compensate for the tilt angle when performing timer calculations. Although illustrative embodiments of the invention have been disclosed in detail herein, with reference to the accompanying drawings, it is understood that the invention is not limited to the precise embodiments shown and that various changes and modifications can be effected therein by one skilled in the art without departing from the scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims and their equivalents.