Safer Drone Navigation: Novel Calibration Enhances Flight missions

© 2023 EPFL

© 2023 EPFL

Researchers at ESO have developed a groundbreaking calibration algorithm that significantly improves the autonomous navigation of fixed-wing drones when satellite positioning is not available at virtually zero additional cost. 

In a recent development, a team of researchers at ESO has unveiled a novel calibration algorithm designed to enhance the safety of drones’ missions. The success of drone missions hinges on accurate trajectory determination, typically achieved by fusing the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and observations from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), such as GPS. However, when the reception of satellite signals gets disturbed (either naturally or via interference), the accuracy of this estimation rapidly becomes impractical.

Newer localization approaches rely on a Vehicle Dynamic Model (VDM)-based navigation system, incorporating aerodynamic models into the sensor fusion architecture. Yet, these models require specific knowledge of aerodynamic parameters unique to the drone's design. The newly developed calibration algorithm eliminates this hurdle by identifying these parameters directly from flight data.

The calibration results demonstrate a substantial reduction in navigation drift during GNSS outages when the VDM framework employs the identified parameters on two geometrically different drones. Crucially, the algorithm proves independent of the drone's design, offering a versatile solution applicable across various fixed-wing platforms without prior knowledge of aerodynamics.

This breakthrough is poised to dramatically improve drones’ operational safety in diverse sectors, including healthcare, cinematography, geographic mapping, disaster management, precision agriculture, search and rescue, weather forecasting, wildlife monitoring, and entertainment.


i) This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 754354.
ii) This work was partially supported by the Swiss National Foundation (200021182072).


Sharma, A., Laupré, G.F. and Skaloud, J., 2023. Identifying Aerodynamics of Small Fixed-Wing Drones Using Inertial Measurements for Model-Based Navigation. NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, 70(4).