Interactive Planning and Sensing for Aircraft in Uncertain Environments with Spatiotemporally Evolving Threats


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Autonomous aerial, terrestrial, and marine vehicles provide a platform for several applications including cargo transport, information gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and search-and-rescue. To enable such applications, two main technical problems are commonly addressed.On the one hand, the motion-planning problem addresses optimal motion to a destination: an application example is the delivery of a package in the shortest time with least fuel. Solutions to this problem often assume that all relevant information about the environment is available, possibly with some uncertainty. On the other hand, the information gathering problem addresses the maximization of some metric of information about the environment: application examples include such as surveillance and environmental monitoring.\n\nSolutions to the motion-planning problem in vehicular autonomy assume that information about the environment is available from three sources: (1) the vehicle’s own onboard sensors, (2) stationary sensor installations (e.g. ground radar stations), and (3) other information gathering vehicles, i.e., mobile sensors, especially with the recent emphasis on collaborative teams of autonomous vehicles with heterogeneous capabilities. Each source typically processes the raw sensor data via estimation algorithms. These estimates are then available to a decision making system such as a motion-planning algorithm. The motion-planner may use some or all of the estimates provided. There is an underlying assumption of “separation” between the motion-planning algorithm and the information about environment. This separation is common in linear feedback control systems, where estimation algorithms are designed independent of control laws, and control laws are designed with the assumption that the estimated state is the true state.\n\nIn the case of motion-planning, there is no reason to believe that such a separation between the motion-planning algorithm and the sources of estimated environment information will lead to optimal motion plans, even if the motion planner and the estimators are themselves optimal. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate whether the removal of this separation, via interactive motion-planning and sensing, can significantly improve the optimality of motion-planning.\n\nThe major contribution of this work is interactive planning and sensing. We consider the problem of planning the path of a vehicle, which we refer to as the actor, to traverse a threat field with minimum threat exposure. The threat field is an unknown, time-variant, and strictly positive scalar field defined on a compact 2D spatial domain – the actor’s workspace. The threat field is estimated by a network of mobile sensors that can measure the threat field pointwise. All measurements are noisy. The objective is to determine a path for the actor to reach a desired goal with minimum risk, which is a measure sensitive not only to the threat exposure itself, but also to the uncertainty therein. A novelty of this problem setup is that the actor can communicate with the sensor network and request that the sensors position themselves in a procedure we call sensor reconfiguration such that the actor’s risk is minimized.\n\nThis work continues with a foundation in motion planning in time-varying fields where waiting is a control input. Waiting is examined in the context of finding an optimal path with considerations for the cost of exposure to a threat field, the cost of movement, and the cost of waiting. For example, an application where waiting may be beneficial in motion-planning is the delivery of a package where adverse weather may pose a risk to the safety of a UAV and its cargo. In such scenarios, an optimal plan may include “waiting until the storm passes.” Results on computational efficiency and optimality of considering waiting in path-planning algorithms are presented. In addition, the relationship of waiting in a time-varying field represented with varying levels of resolution, or multiresolution is studied.\n\nInteractive planning and sensing is further developed for the case of time-varying environments. This proposed extension allows for the evaluation of different mission windows, finite sensor network reconfiguration durations, finite planning durations, and varying number of available sensors. Finally, the proposed method considers the effect of waiting in the path planner under the interactive planning and sensing for time-varying fields framework. Future work considers various extensions of the proposed interactive planning and sensing framework including: generalizing the environment using Gaussian processes, sensor reconfiguration costs, multiresolution implementations, nonlinear parameters, decentralized sensor networks and an application to aerial payload delivery by parafoil.

  • etd-042219-162643
Defense date
  • 2019
Date created
  • 2019-04-22
Resource type
Rights statement
Last modified
  • 2021-01-05


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