Volocopter has been granted a patent for a method of controlling an actuator system in an aircraft. The method involves automatically controlling a number of actuators to perform a physical task, checking for actuator failures, and generating emergency signals to adapt the physical task based on the remaining actuators’ capabilities. The emergency signals are used to modify the flight trajectory of the aircraft. GlobalData’s report on Volocopter gives a 360-degree view of the company including its patenting strategy. Buy the report here.

According to GlobalData’s company profile on Volocopter, photovoltaic drones was a key innovation area identified from patents. Volocopter's grant share as of June 2023 was 1%. Grant share is based on the ratio of number of grants to total number of patents.

Method for controlling an actuator system in an aircraft

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Credit: Volocopter GmbH

A recently granted patent (Publication Number: US11679874B2) describes a method for controlling an overly determined actuator system in a multi-actuator aerial vehicle (MAV), which is an electrically powered VTOL aircraft used for transporting loads or passengers. The method involves automatically controlling a first number of actuators with a control unit to perform a predetermined physical task. The functional state of the actuators is repeatedly checked to detect any actuator failures. In the event of a failure, an emergency signal is generated based on the dynamics and kinematics of the actuator system, known physical capacities of the remaining actuators, and optionally a computational performance model. This emergency signal is used to adapt the pre-planned flight trajectory of the MAV by a motion planning device, which determines an adapted flight trajectory to prevent further damage to the actuator system.

The method includes a failure detection algorithm that takes inputs such as actuator health status, commanded actuator values, output of an external disturbance observer, computed actuator commands, known system parameters, and available measurements/estimates of the system state. The algorithm is installed on either the control unit or a dedicated emergency control unit. The emergency signal is translated into a control signal that can be communicated to the human pilot or an auto-pilot of the actuator system, activating the remaining actuators to perform the adapted physical task.

The patent also describes the option to trigger an emergency procedure for saving the actuator system or shutting down the system altogether. The functional state of the actuators is communicated to the control unit or a dedicated emergency control unit. Additionally, the motion planning device suggests an overrule command to a trajectory tracking unit, allowing the MAV to deviate from the pre-planned flight trajectory in certain areas. This can be achieved by implementing a potential field and recalculating the trajectory based on it.

The patent further includes an emergency control system for the actuator system, comprising a control unit, a function for checking the functional state of the actuators, and an emergency signal device. This system is designed for use with a MAV and is configured to apply the emergency signal to the motion planning device.

In conclusion, the granted patent presents a method and system for controlling an overly determined actuator system in a multi-actuator aerial vehicle. The method involves detecting actuator failures, generating emergency signals, adapting flight trajectories, and communicating with the pilot or auto-pilot. The system includes a control unit, a failure detection algorithm, and an emergency signal device.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData Patent Analytics tracks bibliographic data, legal events data, point in time patent ownerships, and backward and forward citations from global patenting offices. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.