Monocular Ranging for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems in the Far-Field

Document Type


Publication Date






Conference Name

AIAA Scitech 2021 Forum, 11-15 & 19-21, January 2021, Virtual


Recent proliferation of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) applications requires onboard collision avoidance systems to mitigate the risk of collision with non-cooperative aircraft and manned aircraft, which may not see sUAS in time to perform an avoidance maneuver. An attractive avenue for onboard collision avoidance is the utilization of machine vision cameras due to their low size, weight and power (SWaP) requirements. In this paper, we characterize the range performance of a machine vision system developed in-house and mounted onto an sUAS. The technique was designed to estimate the performance of a sense-and-avoid system to ensure that the sensing components meet the well-clear requirements for the chosen platform and avoidance strategy. Experimental flight-test data was acquired from test-flights flown along multiple collision geometries for two intruders: a general Aviation (GA) aircraft and a fixed-wing sUAS. The ownship and both intruders were instrumented with inertial navigation systems (INS) recording position and attitude information. The range at first detection, R_0, was extracted from in-flight imagery of head-on collision course geometry synchronized with INS data from both aircraft and ground-truth values extracted from the raw imagery. This initial detection distance, R_0, scales with atmospheric attenuation. Therefore, under clear sky conditions, the derived R_0 value represents the upper bound on the detection range achievable by the test configuration of the detector. Results indicate that the maximum initial detection distance for a 4k resolution action camera fitted with a 41º Field of View (FOV) lens is 2.763 ± 0.037 km for a GA aircraft and 0.881 ± 0.061 km for a fixed-wing sUAS, respectively. The in results this study suggest that a vision-based detect and track system may be analyzed using the sensor characterization and contextualized within aircraft well-clear volumes.


This material is declared a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States.

Video available at:

Original Publication Citation

Dolph, C. V., Minwalla, C., Glaab, L. J., Allen, B. D., & Iftekharuddin, K. M. (2021). Monocular ranging for small unmanned aerial systems in the far-field. AIAA Scitech 2021 Forum, Virtual.