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Vision-controlled micro flying robots: from system design to autonomous navigation and mapping in GPS-denied environments


Abstract

Autonomous microhelicopters will soon play a major role in tasks like search and rescue, environment monitoring, security surveillance, and inspection. If they are further realized in small scale, they can also be used in narrow outdoor and indoor environments and represent only a limited risk for people. However, for such operations, navigating based only on global positioning system (GPS) information is not sufficient. Fully autonomous operation in cities or other dense environments requires microhelicopters to fly at low altitudes, where GPS signals are often shadowed, or indoors and to actively explore unknown environments while avoiding collisions and creating maps. This involves a number of challenges on all levels of helicopter design, perception, actuation, control, and navigation, which still have to be solved. The Swarm of Micro Flying Robots (SFLY) project was a European Union-funded project with the goal of creating a swarm of vision-controlled microaerial vehicles (MAVs) capable of autonomous navigation, three-dimensional (3-D) mapping, and optimal surveillance coverage in GPS-denied environments. The SFLY MAVs do not rely on remote control, radio beacons, or motion-capture systems but can fly all by themselves using only a single onboard camera and an inertial measurement unit (IMU). This article describes the technical challenges that have been faced and the results achieved from hardware design and embedded programming to vision-based navigation and mapping, with an overview of how all the modules work and how they have been integrated into the final system. Code, data sets, and videos are publicly available to the robotics community. Experimental results demonstrating three MAVs navigating autonomously in an unknown GPS-denied environment and performing 3-D mapping and optimal surveillance coverage are presented.

Abstract

Autonomous microhelicopters will soon play a major role in tasks like search and rescue, environment monitoring, security surveillance, and inspection. If they are further realized in small scale, they can also be used in narrow outdoor and indoor environments and represent only a limited risk for people. However, for such operations, navigating based only on global positioning system (GPS) information is not sufficient. Fully autonomous operation in cities or other dense environments requires microhelicopters to fly at low altitudes, where GPS signals are often shadowed, or indoors and to actively explore unknown environments while avoiding collisions and creating maps. This involves a number of challenges on all levels of helicopter design, perception, actuation, control, and navigation, which still have to be solved. The Swarm of Micro Flying Robots (SFLY) project was a European Union-funded project with the goal of creating a swarm of vision-controlled microaerial vehicles (MAVs) capable of autonomous navigation, three-dimensional (3-D) mapping, and optimal surveillance coverage in GPS-denied environments. The SFLY MAVs do not rely on remote control, radio beacons, or motion-capture systems but can fly all by themselves using only a single onboard camera and an inertial measurement unit (IMU). This article describes the technical challenges that have been faced and the results achieved from hardware design and embedded programming to vision-based navigation and mapping, with an overview of how all the modules work and how they have been integrated into the final system. Code, data sets, and videos are publicly available to the robotics community. Experimental results demonstrating three MAVs navigating autonomously in an unknown GPS-denied environment and performing 3-D mapping and optimal surveillance coverage are presented.

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66 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Informatics
Dewey Decimal Classification:000 Computer science, knowledge & systems
Language:English
Date:September 2014
Deposited On:12 Aug 2016 06:00
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 20:09
Publisher:Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
ISSN:1070-9932
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1109/MRA.2014.2322295
Other Identification Number:merlin-id:10217

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