An automatic landing site detection algorithm is proposed for aircraft emergency landing. Emergency landing is an unplanned event in response to emergency situations. If, as is unfortunately usually the case, there is no airstrip or airfield that can be reached by the un-powered aircraft, a crash landing or ditching has to be carried out. Identifying a safe landing site is critical to the survival of passengers and crew. Conventionally, the pilot chooses the landing site visually by looking at the terrain through the cockpit. The success of this vital decision greatly depends on the external environmental factors that can impair human vision, and on the pilot's flight experience that can vary significantly among pilots. Therefore, we propose a robust, reliable and efficient algorithm that is expected to alleviate the negative impact of these factors. We present only the detection mechanism of the proposed algorithm and assume that the image enhancement for increased visibility, and image stitching for a larger field-of-view have already been performed on the images acquired by aircraft-mounted cameras. Specifically, we describe an elastic bound detection method which is designed to position the horizon. The terrain image is divided into non-overlapping blocks which are then clustered according to a "roughness" measure. Adjacent smooth blocks are merged to form potential landing sites whose dimensions are measured with principal component analysis and geometric transformations. If the dimensions of the candidate region exceed the minimum requirement for safe landing, the potential landing site is considered a safe candidate and highlighted on the human machine interface. At the end, the pilot makes the final decision by confirming one of the candidates, also considering other factors such as wind speed and wind direction, etc. Preliminary results show the feasibility of the proposed algorithm. © 2011 SPIE.
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