(19)
(11)EP 3 653 501 A1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT APPLICATION

(43)Date of publication:
20.05.2020 Bulletin 2020/21

(21)Application number: 19216040.6

(22)Date of filing:  26.06.2017
(51)Int. Cl.: 
B64C 39/02  (2006.01)
B64F 1/02  (2006.01)
(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 27.06.2016 US 201615194492

(62)Application number of the earlier application in accordance with Art. 76 EPC:
17177785.7 / 3263455

(71)Applicant: Insitu, Inc.
Bingen, WA 98605 (US)

(72)Inventor:
  • GRUBB, Matthew
    Bingen, WA 98605 (US)

(74)Representative: Howson, Richard Giles Bentham 
Kilburn & Strode LLP Lacon London 84 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8NL
London WC1X 8NL (GB)

  


(54)LOCKING LINE CAPTURE DEVICES FOR UNMANNED AIRCRAFT, AND ASSOCIATED SYSTEMS AND METHODS


(57) Locking line capture devices (140) for unmanned aircraft, and associated systems and methods are disclosed herein. A representative system (100) includes a line capture body (141) having a line slot (143) with an open end and closed end (151), and a retainer (142) positioned proximate the line slot (143) and movable between first position in which the retainer (142) blocks access to the line slot (143) and a second position in which the retainer (142) allows access to the line slot (143). A locking device (160) is operably coupled between the capture body (141) and the retainer (142) and is movable between an unlocked position to allow movement of the retainer (142) between the first and second positions, and a locked position to block such movement. A release device (180) is operably coupled to the locking device (160) and movable between a secured position with the locking device (160) secured in the locked position, and a released position with the locking device (160) movable between the locked and unlocked positions.




Description

TECHNICAL FIELD



[0001] The present technology is directed generally to locking line capture devices for unmanned aircraft, and associated systems and methods.

BACKGROUND



[0002] Unmanned aircraft or aerial vehicles (UAVs) provide enhanced and economical access to areas where manned flight operations are unacceptably costly and/or dangerous. For example, UAVs outfitted with remotely controlled cameras can perform a wide variety of surveillance missions, including spotting schools of fish for the fisheries industry, monitoring weather conditions, providing border patrols for national governments, and providing military surveillance before, during and/or after military operations.

[0003] Existing UAV systems suffer from a variety of drawbacks. For example, existing UAVs systems (which can include the aircraft itself along with launch devices, recovery devices, and storage devices) typically require substantial space. Accordingly, these systems can be difficult to install and operate in cramped quarters, such as the deck of a small fishing boat, land vehicle, or other craft. Another drawback with some existing UAVs is that, due to small size and low weight, they can be subjected to higher acceleration and deceleration forces than larger, manned aerial vehicles and can accordingly be prone to damage, particularly when manually handled during recovery and launch operations in hostile environments, such as a heaving ship deck. Yet another drawback with some existing UAV systems is that they may not be suitable for recovering aircraft in tight quarters, without causing damage to either the aircraft or the platform from which the aircraft is launched and/or recovered. Accordingly, there remains a need in the industry for improved methods for operating UAVs in confined environments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



[0004] 

Figures 1A-1B illustrate an apparatus configured to recover UAVs in accordance with representative embodiments of the present technology.

Figure 2 is a partially schematic, isometric illustration of a line capture device carried by a UAV in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 3A and 3B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device shown in Figure 2, with a recovery line positioned to enter a line slot of the device in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 4A and 4B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device shown in Figure 2, with the recovery line positioned in the line slot, in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 5A and 5B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device shown in Figure 2, with a locking device in a locked position, in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 6A and 6B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device shown in Figure 2, with the recovery line fully engaged in the capture slot, in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 7A and 7B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device shown in Figure 2 with the locking device shown in an unlocked position in accordance with an embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 8A and 8B are partially schematic, plan and isometric views, respectively, of a line capture device having a retainer and locking mechanism configured in accordance with another embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 9A and 9B are plan and isometric views, respectively, of a capture device having a locking mechanism configured in accordance with yet another embodiment of the present technology.

Figures 10A-10D illustrate plan views of a line capture device having a retainer with three lobes positioned in a first, second, and third orientation, respectively, in accordance with still another embodiment of the present technology.


DETAILED DESCRIPTION


1.0 Overview



[0005] The present technology is directed generally to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) having locking capture devices, and associated systems and methods. In particular embodiments, the capture devices are mounted on the wing tips of the UAV and are used to "snag" the UAV on a recovery line, thus eliminating the need for a runway, net, and/or other landing arrangement. A representative capture device includes a slot and a retainer that can prevent the recovery line from disengaging from the slot once the UAV has been captured. A locking device further secures the retainer, and can be released by the operator after the UAV has been captured in preparation for detaching the UAV from the recovery line.

[0006] The invention can involve an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 110 system 100, that may include a line capture body 141 having a line slot 143, the line slot 143 having an open end and a closed end 151; a retainer 142 positioned proximate the line slot 143 and movable between a first position in which the retainer 142 blocks access to the line slot 143 and a second position in which the retainer 142 allows access to the line slot 143;a locking device 160 operably coupled between the line capture body 141 and the retainer 142, and moveable between at least one unlocked position in which the locking device 160 allows movement of the retainer 142 from the first position to the second position, and a locked position in which the locking device 160 blocks movement of the retainer 142 from the first position to the second position; and a release device 180 operably coupled to the locking device 160 and moveable between a secured position with the locking device 160 secured in the locked position, and a released position with the locking device 160 movable between the locked position and the unlocked position. The retainer 142 may include a flat portion 147 that extends over the line slot 143 when the retainer 142 is in the first position, and wherein the system further comprises a spring 148 coupled between the retainer 142 and the line capture body 141, with the spring 148 biasing the retainer 142 to the first position. The locking device 160 may be slideable between the locked and unlocked positions. The locking device 160 may include a locking element 165 that is slideable between the locked and unlocked positions; and a line strike device 161 positioned across the line slot 143, and operably coupled to both the line capture body 141 and the locking element 165, the line strike device 161 being movable between an unstruck position with the locking device 160 in the unlocked position, and a struck position with the locking device 160 in the locked position. The line strike device 161 may include an elongated wire. The line strike device 161 may include a flat portion 147 positioned across the slot 143. The retainer 142 may include a flat portion 147 that extends over the slot when the retainer 142 is in the first position, the flat portion 147 including a notch 149, and wherein the locking device 160 includes a protrusion 164 that is positioned in the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the locked position, and is positioned out of the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the unlocked position. The locking device 160 may include a wire having a line strike portion positioned across the line slot 143 to make contact with the recovery line 133, and a locking portion positioned to engage with the retainer 142 when the locking device 160 is in the locked position. The retainer 142 may include a notch 149, and wherein the locking portion of the locking device 160 is positioned in the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the locked position, and is positioned out of the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the unlocked position. The locking device 160 and the release device 180 by both be portions of a single unitary wire. The system 100 may also include a UAV 110 having a wing, and wherein the line capture body 141 is attached to the wing 113.

[0007] The invention can involve an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 110 system 100, that may include a UAV 110 having a wing 113; a line capture body 141 attached to the wing 113 and having a line slot 143, the line slot 143 having an open end and a closed end 151, the line capture body 141 further having a lock groove 166; a retainer 142 having a flat portion 147 with a notch 149, the retainer 142 being positioned proximate the line slot 143 and movable between a first position in which the flat portion 147 is positioned over the line slot 143 to block access to the line slot 143 and a second position in which the flat portion 147 is rotated away from the first position to allow access to the line slot 143; a locking device 160 operably coupled between the line capture body 141 and the retainer 142, the locking device160 may include a locking element 165 positioned in the lock groove 166 and slideable between an unlocked position in which the locking device 160 allows movement of the retainer 142 from the first position to the second position, and a locked position in which the locking device 160 blocks movement of the retainer 142 from the first position to the second position, the locking element 165 further including a protrusion 164 that is positioned in the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the locked position, and is positioned out of the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is in the unlocked position; a line strike device 161 positioned across the line slot 143, and operably coupled to both the line capture body 141 and the locking element 165, the line strike device 161 being movable between an unstruck position with the locking element 165 in the unlocked position, and a struck position with the locking element 165 in the locked position; and a release device 180 operably coupled to the locking device 160 and moveable between a secured position with the locking element 165 secured in the locked position, and a released position with the locking element 165 movable between the locked position and the unlocked position. The line strike device 161 may include a wire pivotably coupled between the line capture body 141 and the locking element 165. The locking device 160 and the release device 180 may both be portions of a single unitary wire.

[0008] The invention can involve an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 110 system 100, that may include a line capture body 1041 having a line slot 1043, the line slot 1043 having an open end and a closed end; a retainer 1042 having a first lobe 1052a, a second lobe 1052b, and a third lobe 1052c, and being positioned proximate the line slot 1043, the retainer 1042 being movable among three positions: a first position in which the first and third lobes 1052a, 1052c are positioned on opposite sides of the line slot 1043 and the second lobe 1052b is positioned over the line slot 1043; a second position in which the first lobe 1052a is positioned over the line slot 1043 and the second and third lobes 1052b, 1052c are clear of the line slot 1043; and a third position in which the first and second lobes 1052a, 1052b are positioned over the line slot 1043 and the third lobe 1052c is positioned clear of the line slot 1043; and a biasing device 1054 coupled between the line capture body 1041 and the retainer 1042 to bias the retainer 1042 toward the first position. The retainer 1042 is pivotable relative to the line capture body 1041 among the first, second and third positions.

[0009] The invention can involve a method for capturing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 110, that may include directing the UAV 110 toward a recovery line 133; engaging a line capture device 140 carried by the UAV 110 with the recovery line 133 by moving at least one of the UAV 110 and the recovery line 133 relative to the other, causing a portion of the recovery line 133 to enter a line slot 143 of the capture device 140 and move a retainer 142 of the capture device 140 from a first position to a second position; after the recovery line 133 has entered the line slot 143, engaging a locking device 160 with the retainer 142 to prevent the retainer 142 from moving from the first position to the second position; and after the UAV has been captured, releasing the UAV 110 from the recovery line 133 by moving a locking device 160 from a secured position, with the locking device 160 secured in the locked position, to a released position, with the locking device 160 movable between the locked position and the unlocked position. The portion of the recovery line 133 may be a first portion, and wherein the retainer 142, in the second position, prevents a second portion of the recovery line 133 from entering the line slot 143. The recovery line 133 may rotate the retainer 142 from the first position to the second position. Engaging the locking device 160 may include sliding the locking device 160.

[0010] Engaging the locking device 160 may include moving a portion of the locking device 160 from a position beneath the retainer 142. Engaging the locking device 160 may include moving a portion of the locking device 160 into a notch 149 of the retainer 142. Causing the portion of the recovery line 133 to move the retainer 142 may include causing the portion of the recovery line 133 to strike a line strike device 161 coupled to the retainer 142. The line strike device may include a flat portion 147 positioned across the line slot 143. The line strike device 161 may include a portion of a wire.

[0011] Several details describing structures or processes that are well-known and often associated with UAVs and corresponding systems and subsystems, but that may unnecessarily obscure some significant aspects of the disclosed technology, are not set forth in the following description for purposes of clarity. Moreover, although the following disclosure sets forth several embodiments of different aspects of the technology, some other embodiments can have different configurations and/or different components than those described in this section. Accordingly, the technology may have other embodiments with additional elements and/or without several of the elements described below with reference to Figures 1A-10D.

[0012] Figures 1A-1B illustrate overall views of systems and methods for capturing UAVs in accordance with embodiments of the present technology. Further details of representative capture devices are discussed with reference to Figures 2-10D. Beginning with Figure 1A, a representative UAV 110 can be captured by an aircraft handling system 100 positioned on a support platform 101. In one embodiment, the support platform 101 can include a boat, ship, or other water vessel 102. In other embodiments, the support platform 101 can include other structures, for example, a building, a truck or other land vehicle, or an airborne vehicle, such as a balloon, helicopter, or other multirotor vehicle, or the aircraft handling system can be placed directly on the ground. In many of these embodiments, the aircraft handling system 100 can be configured solely to retrieve the UAV 110 or, in particular embodiments, it can be configured to both launch and retrieve the UAV 110. The UAV 110 can include a fuselage 111 and wings 113 (or a blended wing/fuselage), and is propelled by a propulsion system 112 (e.g., a piston-driven propeller).

[0013] Referring now to Figure 1B, the aircraft handling system 100 can include a recovery system 130 integrated with a launch system 170. In one aspect of this embodiment, the recovery system 130 can include an extendable boom 131 having a plurality of segments 132. The boom 131 can be mounted on a rotatable base 136 or turret for ease of positioning. The segments 132 are initially stowed in a nested or telescoping arrangement and are then deployed to extend outwardly as shown in Figure 1B. In other embodiments, the extendable boom 131 can have other arrangements, such as a scissors arrangement, a parallel linkage arrangement or a knuckle boom arrangement. In any of these embodiments, the extendable boom 131 can include a recovery line or capture line 133 extended by gravity or other forces. In one embodiment, the recovery line 133 can include 0.25 inch diameter polyester rope, and in other embodiments, the recovery line 133 can include other materials and/or can have other dimensions (e.g., a diameter of 0.3125 inch). In any of these embodiments, a spring or weight 134 at the end of the recovery line 133 can provide tension in the recovery line 133. The aircraft handling system 100 can also include a retrieval line 135 connected to the weight 134 to aid in retrieving and controlling the motion of the weight 134 after the aircraft recovery operation has been completed. In another embodiment, a different recovery line 133a (shown in dashed lines) can be suspended from one portion of the boom 131 and can attach to another point on the boom 131, in lieu of the recovery line 133 and the weight 134.

[0014] In one aspect of this embodiment, the end of the extendable boom 131 can be positioned at an elevation A above the local surface (e.g., the water shown in Figure 1B), and a distance D away from the nearest vertical structure projecting from the local surface. In one aspect of this embodiment, the elevation A can be about 15 meters and the distance D can be about 10 meters. In other embodiments, A and D can have other values, depending upon the particular installation, the size of the UAV 110, and/or other factors. For example, in one particular embodiment, the elevation A can be about 17 meters when the boom 131 is extended, and about 4 meters when the boom 131 is retracted. The distance D can be about 8 meters when the boom 131 is extended, and about 4 meters when the boom 131 is retracted. In a further particular aspect of this embodiment, the boom 131 can be configured to carry both a vertical load and a lateral load via the recovery line. For example, in one embodiment, the boom 131 can be configured to capture an UAV 110 having a weight of about 30 pounds, and can be configured to withstand a side load of about 400 pounds, corresponding to the force of the impact between the UAV 110 and the recovery line 133 with appropriate factors of safety.

[0015] In any of the foregoing embodiments, the UAV 110 is captured when it flies into the recovery line 133. Once captured, the UAV 110 is suspended from the recovery line, e.g., by one of the wings 113. Further details of apparatuses and methods for capturing the UAV 110 are described below with reference to Figures 2-10D.

2.0 Representative Embodiments



[0016] Figure 2 is a partially schematic, isometric illustration of an outboard portion of the wing 113 of the UAV 110 shown in Figure 1B. The wing 113 can include a winglet 116 in the illustrated embodiment and may have no winglets in other embodiments. In one aspect of the illustrated embodiment, the wing 113 includes a leading edge 114 (which can, but need not be swept), an outboard edge 115, and a line capture device 140 positioned at or near the outboard edge 115. In other embodiments, each wing 113 can include a plurality of line capture devices 140 located along the span of the wing 113, or a single line capture device located away from the outboard edge 115. In any of these embodiments, the line capture device 140 can have a cleat-type configuration. The line capture device 140 can include a line capture device body 141 with a bracket or flange 144 that is attached to the wing 113, e.g., with bolts 145.

[0017] In operation, the line capture device 140 engages the recovery line 133 to releasably and securely attach the UAV 110 to the recovery line 133. Accordingly, the device 140 can include a line slot 143 positioned in the body 141, and retainer 142 movably attached to the body 141. As the UAV 110 flies toward the recovery line 133 (as indicated by arrow C), the recovery line 133 strikes the wing leading edge 114 and causes the UAV 110 to yaw toward the recovery line 133, which then slides outboard along the leading edge 114 toward the line capture device 140 (as indicated by arrow B). The recovery line 133 then passes into the line slot 143 and is retained in the line slot 143 by the retainer 142, as described in greater detail below. If the UAV 110 is not properly aligned with the recovery line 133 during its approach, the recovery line 133 may strike the line capture device 140 instead of the leading edge 114. In one embodiment, the body 141 includes a guide portion 146 having a body leading edge 155 that is swept aft so as to deflect the recovery line 133 away from the UAV 110. This can prevent the recovery line 133 from fouling and can reduce the yawing moment imparted to the UAV 110, allowing the UAV 110 to recover from the missed capture and return for another capture attempt.

[0018] As described above, the recovery line 133 travels outboard along the wing leading edge 114 toward the line capture device 140. As the recovery line 133 enters the line slot 143, it forces the retainer 142 to move from the closed position shown in Figure 2 to an open position. The recovery line 133 travels within the line slot 143 and a locking device 160 engages the retainer 142 to prevent the retainer 142 from opening, either under the force of the recovery line 133, or otherwise. After the aircraft has been successfully captured, an operator uses a release device 180 to disengage the locking device 160 and remove the UAV 110 from the recovery line 133. Further details of this operation are described below with reference to Figures 3A-7B.

[0019] Figures 3A and 3B are plan and isometric views, respectively, of the capture device 140 shown in Figure 2. The line slot 143 has an open end 150 and a closed end 151. The retainer 142 can include a flat portion 147 that extends over the line slot 143 when the retainer 142 is in a first or closed position, as illustrated in Figures 3A and 3B. The retainer 142 can pivot relative to the body 141, and can be biased towards the closed position with a retainer spring 148. In a particular embodiment, the spring 148 includes a wire that extends downwardly into and through a first aperture 156a, then back upwardly through a second aperture 156b, so as to allow the retainer 142 to pivot about an axis extending upwardly and downwardly through the first aperture 156a, as indicated by arrow E. The retainer 142 can include a notch 149 that receives the locking device 160, as described further below.

[0020] The locking device 160 can include a locking element 165 that slides axially within a lock groove 166, as indicated by arrow F. The locking element 165 can include a protrusion 164 that is positioned underneath the flat portion 147 of the retainer 142 when the locking device 160 is not engaged (e.g., when the locking device 160 is in an unlocked position). When the locking device 160 is not engaged, the retainer 142 is free rotate freely as indicated by arrow E, while the flat portion 147 rotates over the protrusion 164 below. The protrusion 164 pops into the notch 149 when the locking device 160 is engaged, as is described further below with reference to Figures 5A and 5B.

[0021] The locking device 160 can further include a line strike device 161 positioned toward the closed end 151 of the line slot 143. The line strike device 161 is positioned to pull the locking element 165 from left to right when the recovery line 133 strikes the line strike device 161. Accordingly, the line strike device 161 can include a line strike flat portion 162 that extends over and across the capture slot 143, and can move between an unstruck position and a struck position under the force of the recovery line 133.

[0022] The release device 180 is coupled to the locking device 160, e.g., via the line strike device 161 and/or the locking element 165. The release device 180 can include a release device spring 181 that biases the release device 180 toward an engaged position shown in Figures 3A and 3B. In a particular embodiment, the release device spring 181 can include a wire that operates generally similarly to the retainer spring 148 described above. The release device 180 can have a contoured surface allowing a user to easily engage and move it from left to right (or counter-clockwise), indicated by arrow G, to release the locking device 160, as will be described further below with reference to Figures 7A and 7B.

[0023] Figures 4A and 4B are partially schematic plan and isometric views, respectively, of the line capture device 140 shown in Figures 3A and 3B, after the recovery line 133 has entered the line capture slot 143 and forced the retainer 142 to pivot away from the line capture slot 143, as indicated by arrow E. The recovery line 133 continues to move along the line capture slot 143 toward the closed end 151. The portion of the recovery line 133 within the capture slot 143 can assume an elliptical and/or otherwise non-circular cross-sectional shape due to the confined width of the capture slot 143, as shown in Figure 4A and several subsequent Figures.

[0024] In Figures 5A and 5B, the recovery line 133 has struck the line strike device 161, causing the locking element 165 to slide within its lock groove 166 as indicated by arrow F. As a result of this movement, the protrusion 164 emerges from beneath the retainer 142 and into the notch 149. The protrusion 164 is biased upwardly so as to spring upwardly into the notch 149 after the retainer 142 (which is biased toward its closed position) rotates back to its closed position, as indicated by arrow E. Accordingly, the recovery line 133 is now positioned toward the closed end 151 (Figure 4B) of the line slot 143 and the retainer 142 is in its closed position to prevent the recovery line 133 from exiting the line slot 143. In addition, the locking device 160 prevents the retainer 142 from moving away from its closed position. Accordingly, if another portion of the recovery line 133 outside the capture slot 143 loops upwardly and strikes the retainer 142, the retainer 142 will not move from its closed position. An advantage of this feature is that it can prevent the retainer 142 from inadvertently being reopened as the recovery line 133 bounces, loops and/or otherwise moves around during the capture operation. Such movement might otherwise not only cause the retainer 142 to open, but also cause the captured portion of the recovery line 133 to move out of capture slot 143 and thus prevent the successful capture of the UAV 110 (Figures 1A, 1B).

[0025] As shown in Figures 6A and 6B, the recovery line 133 has now traveled to the closed end 151 of the slot 143 and is fully engaged in the capture slot 143. The line strike device 161 has moved clear of the capture slot 143 under the force of the recovery line 133, but the locking device 160 (e.g., the protrusion 164) remains positioned in the notch 149 of the retainer 142 to prevent the retainer 142 from inadvertently opening. The UAV is now captured.

[0026] Figures 7A and 7B illustrate a representative operation for removing the UAV from the recovery line 133 by unlocking and disengaging the line capture device 140. In particular, an operator can slide and/or pivot the release device 180 as indicated by arrow G to pull the locking device 160 out of engagement with the retainer 142. In particular, the protrusion 164 is pulled away from the notch 149 (as is best seen in Figure 7B), allowing the retainer 142 to be pivoted to its open position (as is best seen in Figure 7A). With the retainer 142 in its open position, the user can pull the recovery line 133 out of the slot 143, as indicated by arrow H, and release the UAV. Accordingly, the locking device 160 can include at least one unlocked position, and in this embodiment, two unlocked positions: a first unlocked position shown in Figures 3A and 3B (prior to the entry of the recovery line 133 into the line slot 143), and a second unlocked position shown in Figures 7A, 7B (after the recovery line 133 has entered the line slot 143, but before the UAV has been released).

[0027] Figures 8A and 8B schematically illustrate a line capture device 840 having a construction generally similar to that described above with reference to Figures 2-7B, but with a simplified release device 880. For example, the release device 880 can include just a release device spring 881 (e.g., a wire spring), which operates as a line strike device, a spring, and the release device itself. A corresponding retainer 842 and locking device 860 operate in a manner generally similar to that discussed above with reference to Figures 3A-7B. In operation, the recovery line 133 strikes a line strike portion 861 to pull a locking element 865 (e.g., having a protrusion 864) from left to right to lock the retainer 842. To unlock the capture device 840, the operator engages an outwardly-facing wire portion 883 of the release device 880 and rotates it as indicated by arrow G to pull the protrusion 864 out of the corresponding notch 849 in a manner generally similar to that discussed above with reference to Figures 7A-7B.

[0028] Figures 9A and 9B schematically illustrate a line capture device 940 configured in accordance with still another embodiment of the present technology. In this embodiment, a single element (e.g., a unitary wire) can include, and can perform the functions of, the line strike device, locking device, and release device described above. In particular, the line capture device 940 can include a retainer 942 that is biased to a closed position via a retainer spring 948 that operates in generally the same manner described above with reference to Figures 3A-7B. A wire 976 (e.g., a single wire) includes a line strike portion 961 that receives the impact of the recovery line 133 and pivots as indicated by arrow G. The same wire 976 can include a locking portion 960 that is shown in its initial position beneath the retainer 942 in Figures 9A-9B. When the recovery line 133 strikes the line strike portion 961 and pivots the wire 976 counterclockwise, as indicated by arrow G, the locking portion 960 emerges from underneath the retainer 942 and fits into a corresponding notch 949 to prevent the retainer 942 from moving from the closed position to the open position. The wire 976 can still further include a release portion 980 having a curved or otherwise suitable shape that the operator can manipulate (e.g., with the thumb) to move the locking portion 960 away from the retainer 942 and unlock the locking portion in a manner generally similar to that described above.

[0029] Figures 10A-10D are partially schematic, plan view illustrations of a line capture device 1040 configured in accordance with still another embodiment of the present technology. In one aspect of this embodiment, the line capture device 1040 includes a body 1041 having a line capture slot 1043, and a retainer 1042 pivotably attached to the body 1041 so as to pivot about a pivot axis 1053 that extends inwardly and outwardly out of the plane of Figures 10A-10D. The retainer 1042 has multiple lobes 1052, illustrated as a first lobe 1052a, a second lobe 1052b, and a third lobe 1052c. The pivotable connection between the body 1041 and the retainer 1042 can include a biasing device 1054 that operates as a torque spring. The biasing device 1054 can bias the retainer 1042 to an initial or starting position shown in Figure 10A.

[0030] In operation, the line capture device is initially set to the initial or starting position shown in Figure 10A, with the first lobe 1052a positioned on one side of the line capture slot 1043, and the second lobe 1052b positioned in the line capture slot 1043. When the recovery line 133 strikes the second lobe 1052b as it enters the slot, the force pivots the retainer 1042 clockwise about the pivot axis 1053 so as to move the second lobe 1052b out of the line capture slot 1043, allowing the recovery line 133 to move into the line capture slot 1043. In Figure 10B, the second lobe 1052b is in the process of rotating clockwise under the force of the incoming recovery line 133. The first lobe 1052a rotates to close off the line capture slot 1043 behind the entering recovery line 133, as is also shown in Figure 10B. In Figure 10C, the retainer 1042 has rotated counterclockwise under the restoring force of the biasing device 1054 to further constrain the motion of the now-captured recovery line 133. In this instance, both the first lobe 1052a and the second lobe 1052b can prevent another portion of the recovery line 133 (e.g., a looping portion) from entering the line capture slot 1043. In Figure 10D, an operator has begun to disengage the capture line 133 from the line capture device 1040 by rotating the retainer 1042 clockwise (as indicated by arrow P), allowing the operator to move the capture line 133 past the second lobe 1052b and toward the entrance of the line capture slot 1043. Once the capture line 133 is past the second lobe 1052b, the operator can rotate the retainer 1042 counterclockwise, as indicated by arrow Q, until the retainer 1042 has the position shown in Figure 10A. At that point, the operator can disengage the capture line 133 by moving it past the first lobe 1052a and out of the line capture slot 1043.

[0031] Devices in accordance with embodiments of the technology described above with reference to Figures 10A-10D can perform functions similar or identical to those described above with reference to Figures 2-9B. For example, when the line capture device 1040 is in the configuration shown in Figure 10C, the second and third lobes 1052b, 1052c can prevent the capture line 133 from exiting the line capture slot 1043, effectively locking the device until the operator unlocks the device (as shown in Figure 10D). In addition, the first lobe 1052a can prevent another capture line, or another portion of the capture line 133, from entering and/or opening the line capture slot 1043.

[0032] One feature of at least some of the embodiments described above with reference to Figures 1A-10D is that the line capture devices can include a locking mechanism or device. The locking device at least restricts (and typically prevents) the retainer from opening, once the capture device has successfully engaged with a recovery line, unless the operator deliberately unlocks the device. An advantage of this arrangement is that it can reduce or eliminate the likelihood for the recovery line to "loop" or otherwise undergo a motion that opens the retainer, which can allow an already-engaged recovery line to escape from the line slot. As a result, the likelihood for a capture maneuver to fail can be significantly reduced.

[0033] From the foregoing, it will be appreciated that specific embodiments of the technology have been described herein for purposes of illustration, but that various modifications may be made without deviating from the technology. For example, several of the components described above and illustrated in Figures 1A-10D can have shapes and arrangements other than those specifically shown and described. In particular embodiments, multiple functions can be performed by individual components, for example, (without limitation) as illustrated in Figures 8A-9B.

[0034] Certain aspects of the technology described in the context of particular embodiments may be combined or eliminated in other embodiments. For example, features of the release device 180 described above with reference to Figures 3A-7B may be added to the device described above with reference to Figures 9A-9B to make operation of the device more comfortable. Elements of the locking devices and/or release devices discussed above with reference to Figures 3A-9B can be applied to the device shown in Figures 10A-10D. Further, while advantages associated with certain embodiments of the disclosed technology have been described in the context of those embodiments, other embodiments may also exhibit such advantages, and not all embodiments need necessarily exhibit such advantages to fall within the scope of the present technology. Accordingly, the present disclosure and associated technology can encompass other embodiments not expressly shown or described herein.

[0035] Further, the disclosure comprises embodiments according to the following clauses:

Clause 1. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system, comprising:

a line capture body having a line slot, the line slot having an open end and a closed end;

a retainer positioned proximate the line slot and movable between a first position in which the retainer blocks access to the line slot and a second position in which the retainer allows access to the line slot;

a locking device operably coupled between the line capture body and the retainer, and moveable between at least one unlocked position in which the locking device allows movement of the retainer from the first position to the second position, and a locked position in which the locking device blocks movement of the retainer from the first position to the second position; and

a release device operably coupled to the locking device and moveable between a secured position with the locking device secured in the locked position, and a released position with the locking device movable between the locked position and the unlocked position.

Clause 2. The system of clause 1 wherein the retainer includes a flat portion that extends over the line slot when the retainer is in the first position, and wherein the system further comprises a spring coupled between the retainer and the line capture body, with the spring biasing the retainer to the first position.

Clause 3. The system of clause 1 or clause 2 wherein the locking device is slideable between the locked and unlocked positions.

Clause 4. The system of any preceding clause wherein the locking device includes:

a locking element that is slideable between the locked and unlocked positions; and

a line strike device positioned across the line slot, and operably coupled to both the line capture body and the locking element, the line strike device being movable between an unstruck position with the locking device in the unlocked position, and a struck position with the locking device in the locked position.

Clause 5. The system of clause 1 wherein retainer includes a flat portion that extends over the slot when the retainer is in the first position, the flat portion including a notch , and wherein the locking device includes a protrusion that is positioned in the notch when the locking device is in the locked position, and is positioned out of the notch when the locking device is in the unlocked position.

Clause 6. The system of any preceding clause wherein the locking device includes a wire having a line strike portion positioned across the line slot to make contact with the recovery line, and a locking portion positioned to engage with the retainer when the locking device is in the locked position.

Clause 7. The system of any preceding clause wherein the locking device and the release device are both portions of a single unitary wire.

Clause 8. The system of any preceding clause, further comprising a UAV having a wing, and wherein the line capture body is attached to the wing.

Clause 9. A method for capturing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), comprising:

directing the UAV toward a recovery line;

engaging a line capture device carried by the UAV with the recovery line by moving at least one of the UAV and the recovery line relative to the other, causing a portion of the recovery line to enter a line slot of the capture device and move a retainer of the capture device from a first position to a second position;

after the recovery line has entered the line slot, engaging a locking device with the retainer to prevent the retainer from moving from the first position to the second position; and

after the UAV has been captured, releasing the UAV from the recovery line by moving a locking device from a secured position, with the locking device secured in the locked position, to a released position, with the locking device movable between the locked position and the unlocked position.

Clause 10. The method of clause 9 wherein the portion of the recovery line is a first portion, and wherein the retainer, in the second position, prevents a second portion of the recovery line from entering the line slot.

Clause 11. The method of clause 9 or clause 10 wherein the recovery line rotates the retainer from the first position to the second position.

Clause 12. The method of any of clauses 9 to 11 wherein engaging the locking device includes sliding the locking device.

Clause 13. The method of any of clauses 9 to 12 wherein engaging the locking device includes moving a portion of the locking device from a position beneath the retainer.

Clause 14. The method of any of clauses 9 to 13 wherein engaging the locking device includes moving a portion of the locking device into a notch of the retainer.

Clause 15. The method of any of clauses 9 to 14 wherein causing the portion of the recovery line to move the retainer includes causing the portion of the recovery line to strike a line strike device coupled to the retainer.




Claims

1. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system, comprising:

a line capture body (1041) having a line slot (1043), the line slot having an open end and a closed end;

a retainer (1042) having a first lobe (1052a), a second lobe (1052b), and a third lobe (1052c), and being positioned proximate the line slot, the retainer being movable among three positions:

a first position in which the first and third lobes are positioned on opposite sides of the line slot and the second lobe is positioned over the line slot;

a second position in which the first lobe is positioned over the line slot and the second and third lobes are clear of the line slot; and

a third position in which the first and second lobes are positioned over the line slot and the third lobe is positioned clear of the line slot; and

a biasing device (1054) coupled between the line capture body and the retainer to bias the retainer toward the first position.


 
2. The system of claim 1 wherein the retainer (1042) is pivotable relative to the line capture body between the first, second and third positions.
 
3. The system of claim 1 wherein the biasing device is configured to act as a torque spring.
 
4. The system of any preceding claim, further comprising:

a locking device a locking device operably coupled between the line capture body and the retainer, and moveable between at least one unlocked position in which the locking device allows movement of the retainer from the first o the second position, and a locked position in which the locking device blocks movement of the retainer from the first position to the second position; and

a release device operably coupled to the locking device and moveable between a secured position with the locking device secured in the locked position, and a released position with the locking device movable between the locked position and the unlocked position.


 
5. The system of claim 4 wherein the locking device is slideable between the locked and unlocked positions.
 
6. The system of claim 5 wherein the locking device includes:
a line strike device positioned across the line slot, and operably coupled to both the line capture body and the locking element, the line strike device being movable between an unstruck position with the locking device in the unlocked position, and a struck position with the locking device in the locked position.
 
7. The system of claim 4 wherein the locking device includes a wire having a line strike portion positioned across the line slot to make contact with the recovery line, and a locking portion positioned to engage with the retainer when the locking device is in the locked position.
 
8. The system of claim 4 wherein the locking device and the release device are both portions of a single unitary wire.
 
9. A UAV (110) comprising a wing (113) and the system of any preceding claim, and wherein the line capture body (1041) is attached to the wing (113).
 
10. A method for capturing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (110), the UAV comprising a line capture device having a line capture body with a line capture slot (1043), a retainer (1042) pivotably attached to the body, the retainer comprising a first lobe (1052a), a second lobe (1052b), and a third lobe (1052c) and a biasing device (1054) configured to bias the retainer to a first position, the method comprising:

directing the UAV (110) toward a recovery line (133), wherein the retainer is in a first position in which the first and third lobes are positioned on opposite sides of the line slot and the second lobe is positioned over the line slot;

engaging a line capture device carried by the UAV with the recovery line by moving at least one of the UAV and the recovery line relative to the other, causing a portion of the recovery line to enter the line slot and to move the second lobe out of the line capture slot into a second position;

after the recovery line has entered the line slot, rotating the retainer towards the first position under the restoring force of the biasing device to prevent the recovery line from exiting the line capture slot; and

after the UAV has been captured, releasing the UAV from the recovery line by rotating the retainer.


 
11. The method of claim 10 wherein the portion of the recovery line is a first portion, and wherein the retainer, in the second position, prevents a second portion of the recovery line from entering the line slot.
 
12. The method of claim 6 wherein the recovery line rotates the retainer from the first position to the second position.
 




Drawing