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Obstacle Detection System for Small UAVs using ADS-B and Thermal Imaging


Thermal Infrared (TIR) imaging is a promising technology which can provide enhanced capabilities to current vision-based Sense-and-Avoid (SAA) systems. It allows operation under extreme illumination conditions, such as direct sun exposure and during nighttime. This paper presents a lightweight obstacle detection system for small UAVs that integrates a TIR camera and an Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver. Algorithms for the detection of flying obstacles in TIR images were developed and TIR images were experimentally compared with synchronized RGB images for validation. Matching between aircraft detected in TIR images and those reported by an ADS-B receiver was performed to obtain distance information to the visually detected aircraft. We experimentally proved that our system is able to enhance individual ADS-B and TIR detection capabilities by detecting aircraft under challenging illumination conditions at real-time frame rates while providing distance estimations to visual detections.

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This work has been developed thanks to the financial support of the Spanish Ministry of Science in the project DPI2014-60139-R and by the European Commision Programm IRSES in the project UECIMUAVS. The authors would also like to thank Benjamin Stinnett for his valuable help with the flight tests.

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Correspondence to Adrian Carrio.

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Carrio, A., Lin, Y., Saripalli, S. et al. Obstacle Detection System for Small UAVs using ADS-B and Thermal Imaging. J Intell Robot Syst 88, 583–595 (2017).

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  • Sense-and-Avoid
  • Aircraft detection
  • Obstacle detection
  • UAV
  • Collision avoidance
  • Thermal infrared
  • ADS-B