Optimal Paths in Gliding Flight

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Virginia Tech


Underwater gliders are robust and long endurance ocean sampling platforms that are increasingly being deployed in coastal regions. This new environment is characterized by shallow waters and significant currents that can challenge the mobility of these efficient (but traditionally slow moving) vehicles. This dissertation aims to improve the performance of shallow water underwater gliders through path planning.

The path planning problem is formulated for a dynamic particle (or "kinematic car") model. The objective is to identify the path which satisfies specified boundary conditions and minimizes a particular cost. Several cost functions are considered. The problem is addressed using optimal control theory. The length scales of interest for path planning are within a few turn radii.

First, an approach is developed for planning minimum-time paths, for a fixed speed glider, that are sub-optimal but are guaranteed to be feasible in the presence of unknown time-varying currents. Next the minimum-time problem for a glider with speed controls, that may vary between the stall speed and the maximum speed, is solved. Last, optimal paths that minimize change in depth (equivalently, maximize range) are investigated.

Recognizing that path planning alone cannot overcome all of the challenges associated with significant currents and shallow waters, the design of a novel underwater glider with improved capabilities is explored. A glider with a pneumatic buoyancy engine (allowing large, rapid buoyancy changes) and a cylindrical moving mass mechanism (generating large pitch and roll moments) is designed, manufactured, and tested to demonstrate potential improvements in speed and maneuverability.



path planning, nonlinear optimal control, underwater gliders