Efficient ranging-sensor navigation methods for indoor aircraft

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Sobers, David Michael, Jr.
Johnson, Eric N.
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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are often used for reconnaissance, search and rescue, damage assessment, exploration, and other tasks that are dangerous or prohibitively difficult for humans to perform. Often, these tasks include traversing indoor environments where radio links are unreliable, hindering the use of remote pilot links or ground-based control, and effectively eliminating Global Positioning System (GPS) signals as a potential localization method. As a result, any vehicle capable of indoor flight must be able to stabilize itself and perform all guidance, navigation, and control tasks without dependence on a radio link, which may be available only intermittently. Since the availability of GPS signals in unknown environments is not assured, other sensors must be used to provide position information relative to the environment. This research covers a description of different ranging sensors and methods for incorporating them into the overall guidance, navigation, and control system of a flying vehicle. Various sensors are analyzed to determine their performance characteristics and suitability for indoor navigation, including sonar, infrared range sensors, and a scanning laser rangefinder. Each type of range sensor tested has its own unique characteristics and contributes in a slightly different way to effectively eliminate the dependence on GPS. The use of low-cost range sensors on an inexpensive passively stabilized coaxial helicopter for drift-tolerant indoor navigation is demonstrated through simulation and flight test. In addition, a higher fidelity scanning laser rangefinder is simulated with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) onboard a quadrotor helicopter to enable active stabilization and position control. Two different navigation algorithms that utilize a scanning laser and techniques borrowed from Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) are evaluated for use with an IMU-stabilized flying vehicle. Simulation and experimental results are presented for each of the navigation systems.
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