Exploring the Effect of Obscurants on Safe Landing Zone Identification

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.


Manned rotorcraft are often employed in harsh environments and difficult terrain that are inaccessible to other craft. Conversely, robotic rotorcraft are operated in controlled settings, often at safe, high altitudes. Missions such as cargo delivery, medevac and fire fighting are unachievable because of unpredictable adverse environmental conditions. To enable UAVs to perform these missions, the effects of obscurants on UAV sensor suites and algorithms must be clearly understood. This paper explores the use of a laser range finder to accomplish landing zone identification in unknown, unstructured environments. The ability to detect a landing zone in environments obscured by smoke is investigated. This is accomplished using a design methodology of testing and evaluating in a controlled environment followed by verification and validation in the field. This methodology establishes a concrete understanding of the sensor performance, thereby removing ambiguities in field tests.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Dimmeler, A., Clement, D., Biichtemann, W.: Effects of obscurants on the performance of laser range finders. Technical Report 6, FGAN–FfO, Tubingen, Germany (1998)

  2. 2.

    Brinkworth, B.: Calculation of attenuation and back-scattering in cloud and fog. Atmos. Environ. 5(8), 605–611 (1971)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Arshinov, Y.F., Donchenko, V.A., Zuev, V.E., Kostin1, V.V., Samokhvalov, I.V.: Experimental investigation of attenuation and backscatter of laser radiation at lambda=2.36 mu and lambda=0.63 mu by artificial fogs and smokes. Russ. Phys. J. 16(6), 789–793 (1973)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Thrun, S., Diel, M., Hahnel, D.: Scan alignment and 3-d surface modeling with a helicopter platform. In: The 4th Int. Conf. on Field and Service Robotics, pp. 14–16 (2003)

  5. 5.

    Scherer, S., Singh, S., Chamberlain, L., Saripalli, S.: Flying fast and low among obstacles. In: International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pp. 2023–2029 (2007)

  6. 6.

    Saripalli, S., Montgomery, J., Sukhatme, G.: Vision-based autonomous landing of an unmanned aerial vehicle. In: Int. Conf. on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pp. 2799–2804 (2002)

  7. 7.

    Saripalli, S., Sukhatme, G.: Landing on a moving target using an autonomous helicopter. In: Int. Conf. on Field and Service Robotics (2003)

  8. 8.

    Johnson, A., Montgomery, J., Matthies, L.: Vision guided landing of an autonomous helicopter in hazardous terrain. In: Int. Conf. on Robotics and Automation, pp. 3966–3971 (2005)

  9. 9.

    Meingast, M., Geyer, C., Sastry, S.: Vision based terrain recovery for landing unmanned aerial vehicles. In: IEEE Conf. on Decision and Control (CDC), pp. 1670–1675 (2004)

  10. 10.

    Johnson, A., Klumpp, A., Collier, J., Wolf, A.: LIDAR-based hazard avoidance for safe landing on Mars. AIAA J. Guid. Control Dyn. 25(6), 1091–1099 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Narli, V., Oh, P.: A hardware-in-the-loop test rig for designing near-earth aerial robotics. In: International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), pp. 2509–2514 (2006)

  12. 12.

    Sevcik, K.W., Oh, P.Y.: Designing aerial robot sensor suites to account for obscurants. In: International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), pp. 1582–1587 (2007)

  13. 13.

    Thrun, S., Montemerlo, M., Dahlkamp, H., Stavens, D., Aron, A., Diebel, J., Fong, P., Gale, J., Halpenny, M., Hoffmann, G., Lau, K., Oakley, C., Palatucci, M., Pratt, V., Stang, P., Strohband, S., Dupont, C., Jendrossek, L.-E., Koelen, C., Markey, C., Rummel, C., van Niekerk, J., Jensen, E., Alessandrini, P., Bradski, G., Davies, B., Ettinger, S., Kaehler, A., Nefian, A., Mahoney, P.: Stanley, the robot that won the darpa grand challenge. Journal of Field Robotics 23(9), 661–692 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Urmson, C., Ragusa, C., Ray, D., Anhalt, J., Bartz, D., Galatali, T., Gutierrez, A., Johnston, J., Harbaugh, S., Kato, H., Messner, W., Miller, N., Peterson, K., Smith, B., Snider, J., Spiker, S., Ziglar, J., Whittaker, W., Clark, M., Koon, P., Mosher, A., Struble, J.: A robust approach to high-speed navigation for unrehearsed desert terrain. Journal of Field Robotics 23(8), 467–508 (2006)

    MATH  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Research, development, test and evaluation of materiel for extreme climatic conditions. Army Regulation, pp. 70–38 (1979)

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Y. Oh.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sevcik, K.W., Kuntz, N. & Oh, P.Y. Exploring the Effect of Obscurants on Safe Landing Zone Identification. J Intell Robot Syst 57, 281 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10846-009-9358-2

Download citation


  • Evaluating guidance algorithms
  • Verifying performance
  • Navigation and control