Hitchhiker Drone Lands on Moving Vehicles Using Advanced Tracking and Suction Cups

Check out this short video of an innovative UAS called the Hitchhiker Drone that uses Advanced Tracking and Suction Cups to land on the back of a moving vehicle.

A new drone named Hitchhiker, designed by Sensen Liu at Shanghai Jiao Tong University's School of Mechanical Engineering, can land on inclined, moving surfaces like the back of a moving car.

“Our interest stems from the fact that many structures—including buildings, bridges, and ground vehicles—feature inclined surfaces that are difficult for traditional drones to land on,” Liu explains to IEEE Spectrum. “By creating drones with this capability, we can leverage these surfaces as landing sites and expand the possibilities for the use of drone technology.”

Liu's team recognized the potential of designing drones that can land on inclined surfaces of buildings, bridges, and vehicles, thus expanding the possibilities for drone applications. 

Hitchhiker Drone in action

The researchers were particularly interested in drones capable of landing on moving cars, allowing for real-time environmental analysis while the vehicle is in motion.

The Hitchhiker drone can conserve energy by latching onto the side of a car after completing its scouting mission, delaying the need to swap or recharge its batteries. 

Under the supervision of Associate Professor Wei Dong, Liu, and his colleagues developed a trajectory planning algorithm that accounts for each rotor's individual thrust on the quadcopter. The drone's position and attitude are analyzed using a two-stage tracking approach.

Equipped with self-sealing suction cups in a wheel configuration, Hitchhiker can latch onto surfaces at steep inclines. This design increases the likelihood of contact with the landing surface, compensating for any errors in the drone's trajectory planning.

The researchers tested Hitchhiker by attaching an adjustable surface to a car, angling it at various inclines, and assessing the drone's ability to land on the surface while the car was in motion. 

The drone demonstrated a success rate of 70% or higher, landing on surfaces moving at speeds up to 1.07 meters per second and inclinations up to 90 degrees. The self-sealing suction cups increased the success rate by 45% compared to conventional suction cups.

Interestingly, the drone had a higher success rate when landing on surfaces moving backward rather than forward. Dong suggests this could be due to the alignment of attitude and velocity control inputs, minimizing errors in the drone's grip on the surface.

A current limitation of Hitchhiker is its reliance on an external positioning camera. The research team plans to develop onboard vision-based algorithms for targeting and positioning systems, even during large attitude flight operations. They are also exploring commercialization opportunities to bring this innovative technology to the market.

“To accomplish this, we plan to develop new, onboard vision-based algorithms that leverage advanced targeting and positioning systems, even during large attitude flight operations,” says Dong. “We are excited about the potential of this technology and are actively exploring various commercialization opportunities to bring it to market.”

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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