Autonomous UAVs that explore dangerous areas
One of the technical objectives of INGENIOUS is to develop an autonomous drone for unsupervised exploration and assessment of high-risk environments. This Multi-purpose Autonomous eXploring drone – MAX – will navigate by itself in combined indoor and outdoor spaces and scout the environment, acting as a sort of “extra teammate” for first responders.
With its on-board suite of utility sensors, MAX will provide visual and infrared imagery, along with environmental parameters such as temperature and presence of dangerous gases. This helps first responders assess the situation, inspect structural elements, locate victims, or understand how to approach a building with minimum risk.
To increase its ability to operate in a combination of narrow and open spaces, MAX uses a dual-SLAM approach (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) where two complementary sensor systems work together to maintain reliable estimates of the platform’s position and velocity. A short-range forward-looking active near-infrared stereo camera provides high-resolution depth images up to a range of a few meters, while a laser scanner mounted on top gives MAX 360 degrees coverage and detailed 3D data at longer ranges.
To assist the first responders in the complex task of interpreting large amounts of data received from the drone, the MAX Ground Control Station runs machine learning-based algorithms for image enhancement, scene analysis and object recognition. The purpose is to raise alerts when MAX encounters elements that require human intervention, e.g. presence of victims, closed doors, important signs, damaged structures, etc.
After the first year of INGENIOUS, the MAX airframe is complete, individual sensor systems are operational and a dynamic path following and obstacle avoidance behaviour has been developed. The focus of the second year is on development of algorithms for low-level control, next best view selection, path planning and high-level control.
The MAX drone is developed by FOI – the Swedish Defence Research Agency – a government authority under the Swedish Ministry of Defence and one of Europe’s leading research institutes in defence and security with around 1000 employees working in a broad field of applications. The team behind the MAX drone works at FOI’s Division of C4ISR in Linköping, Sweden, and combines expertise in unmanned aerial vehicle design, electro-optical sensor technology and sensor informatics.