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Supervision of several drones
for media production

New usages require new solutions

Drone platforms are more and more used by cinematographers for media productions. While in the majority of cases the shots are done with one single drone, the future might hold more complex scenarios in store, with several drones being used simultaneously to cover outdoor events, which are typically held over wide areas. This means that operators will have to manage a drone team, which is not an easy task as many things have to be taken into consideration. Operators simultaneously have to:

Control the drones,
Plan, re-plan and optimise drone trajectories in real-time,
Take into account all obstacles and alarms,
Monitor and manage media cameras

Figure 1 – Managing several drones with few operator is a complex task

Moreover, operators need a good situational awareness to take the right decisions. Well-designed tools are therefore required in order to avoid systems too complex to handle (as shown in Figure 1), while providing a sufficient level of security.

For MultiDrone, Thales Services will bring its experience in developing sophisticated control systems to the table. The goal is to come up with a user-friendly platform allowing for the supervision of several drones through a single or few operator(s). Building on existing solutions, Thales will put in place a prototype, that can then be tested within the MultiDrone project.

How to control several drones at the same time

To reduce the cognitive payload of the operators and help them to focus on their mission, several tools will be included within the supervisor:

A high-level path planning algorithm to prepare the mission including a real-time re-planning solution and multi-criteria paths optimisation to prepare the mission. Such a path planning algorithm has to take into account the environment (no-fly-zones, obstacles, crowds…) and avoid collision between drones;
Advanced video algorithms, for example a tracking algorithm, so that drones can automatically follow specified targets without the operator having to pilot each single drone;
A mission controller to oversee and execute the pre-planned or changed recording. The details of the flight are transmitted from the high-level planning software, which contains the information on the available drones and the flight details. During the flight, the controller continuously monitors the status and position of each drone. It may decide to re-plan depending on the current status;
An advanced human-machine-interface (HMI) based on a dual screen approach (head-up and head-down displays) and intuitive interactions (eye-tracker & touch screen system for contextual menu) (Figure 2)

Figure 2 – Supervisor HMI

For larger set-ups such as large scale media productions during the Olympic Games, the supervisor could be integrated within a commandment chair as illustrated in Figure 3 or, for smaller events, within a compact & low weight suitcase in order to offer a transportable version.

Figure 3 – Supervisor platform example

Though regulations impose to have one pilot for each drone, an additional supervisor platform is mandatory to take into account the interactions between all drones. This supervisor platform has to work as autonomously as possible in order not to overburden the operator using it. Thus, this supervisor platform will mainly focus its attention on the security of the whole mission. The MultiDrone consortium will conduct several experiments and evaluations to find the best balance between flight control, security and user efficiency.

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