Target Locating in Unknown Environments Using Distributed Autonomous Coordination of Aerial Vehicles

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Virginia Tech

The use of autonomous aerial vehicles (UAVs) to explore unknown environments is a growing field of research; of particular interest is locating a target that emits a signal within an unknown environment. Several physical processes produce scalar signals that attenuate with distance from their source, such as chemical, biological, electromagnetic, thermal, and radar signals. The natural decay of the signal with increasing distance enables a gradient ascent method to be used to navigate toward the target. The UAVs navigate around obstacles whose positions are initially unknown; a hybrid controller comprised of overlapping control modes enables robust obstacle avoidance in the presence of exogenous inputs by precluding topological obstructions. Limitations of a distributed gradient augmentation approach to obstacle avoidance are discussed, and an alternative algorithm is presented which retains the robustness of the hybrid control while leveraging local obstacle position information to improve non-collision reliability.

A heterogeneous swarm of multirotors demonstrates the target locating problem, sharing information over a multicast wireless private network in a fully distributed manner to form an estimate of the signal's gradient, informing the direction of travel toward the target. The UAVs navigate around obstacles, showcasing both algorithms developed for obstacle avoidance. Each UAV performs its own target seeking and obstacle avoidance calculations in a distributed architecture, receiving position data from an OptiTrack motion capture system, illustrating the applicability of the control law to real world challenges (e.g., unsynchronized clocks among different UAVs, limited computational power, and communication latency). Experimental and theoretical results are compared.

target locating, obstacle avoidance, multi-agent, swarming, Drone aircraft