Autonomous Robots

, Volume 14, Issue 2–3, pp 147–164 | Cite as

Robotic Airships for Exploration of Planetary Bodies with an Atmosphere: Autonomy Challenges

  • Alberto Elfes
  • Samuel S. Bueno
  • Marcel Bergerman
  • Ely C. de Paiva
  • Josué G. RamosJr.
  • José R. Azinheira

Abstract

Robotic unmanned aerial vehicles have great potential as surveying and instrument deployment platforms in the exploration of planets and moons with an atmosphere. Among the various types of planetary aerovehicles proposed, lighter-than-atmosphere (LTA) systems are of particular interest because of their extended mission duration and long traverse capabilities. In this paper, we argue that the unique characteristics of robotic airships make them ideal candidates for exploration of planetary bodies with an atmosphere. Robotic airships extend the capabilities of balloons through their flight controllability, allowing (1) precise flight path execution for surveying purposes, (2) long-range as well as close-up ground observations, (3) station-keeping for long-term monitoring of high science value sites, (4) transportation and deployment of scientific instruments and in situ laboratory facilities across vast distances, and (5) opportunistic flight path replanning in response to the detection of relevant sensor signatures. Implementation of these capabilities requires achieving a high degree of vehicle autonomy across a broad spectrum of operational scenarios. The paper outlines some of the core autonomy technologies required to implement the capabilities listed above, drawing on work and results obtained in the context of AURORA (Autonomous Unmanned Remote Monitoring Robotic Airship), a research effort that focuses on the development of the technologies required for substantially autonomous robotic airships. We discuss airship modeling and control, autonomous navigation, and sensor-based flight control. We also outline an approach to airborne perception and monitoring which includes mission-specific target acquisition, discrimination and identification, and present experimental results obtained with AURORA.

robotic airship autonomy architectures UAV planetary exploration atmospheric vehicles aerobot flight path control UAV perception 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto Elfes
    • 1
  • Samuel S. Bueno
    • 2
  • Marcel Bergerman
    • 2
  • Ely C. de Paiva
    • 2
  • Josué G. RamosJr.
    • 2
  • José R. Azinheira
    • 3
  1. 1.Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)NASA/California Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  2. 2.CenPRA/LRVCCampinas, SPBrazil
  3. 3.IST/IDMECLisbonPortugal

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