In a recent flight test in Australia, a Scan Eagle UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) succeeded in visually identifying an approaching Cessna aircraft, and letting its own ground-based operators know that evasive action was required. It's being hailed as a major step towards the allowance of UAVs in commercial airspace.

Part of the Queensland Government's Project ResQu, the test was carried out by Queensland University of Technology's Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA), in collaboration with Boeing Research & Technology - Australia, and Scan Eagle manufacturer Insitu Pacific.

The vision-based sense and avoid technology used in the UAV had previously been designed and tested for use in manned aircraft, as a backup for human pilots. Although the Scan Eagle was manually steered out of the way by its remote operator, it is hoped that future UAVs equipped with the system will be able to avoid mid-air collisions autonomously.

"Ultimately, this will allow UA [unmanned aircraft] to provide public services such as assistance in disaster management and recovery, as well as in environmental, biosecurity and resource management," said ARCAA director Prof. Duncan Campbell.