Self-Reliant Task-Oriented Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles for Missions in Harsh Environment: The case of Mars

Many advances have been achieved in space exploration in the recent years extending its range to farther and farther planets. However, with the increase of the distances separating Earth from the visited planets, control and communication with the spacecraft become more and more difficult and complex. For instance, many of the missions to Mars, NASA engineers have to account for the huge distance separating Earth from Mars to communicate with Mars rover for the purpose of sending control commands and getting feedback in return. That is, for Mars vehicle Pathfinder launched in 1997, the rover could not progress more than 52 meters in 30 days because it had to await instructions from Earth millions of kilometers away. In addition, communication between Earth and space vehicles could be limited to certain time windows forcing control stations to use a more scheduled control and command. Therefore, many scientists are advocating the use of autonomous systems that are capable of self-reliance on such harsh environment when no communication with control centre is available. In this project we propose to develop fully autonomous vehicles that can operate on remote planets like Mars under harsh constraints. In this research we investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operating in tandem with ground rovers in swarm formation. Our research consists of adjusting the various components of an autonomous system such the navigation and guidance system, the localization and positioning and the communication schemes to the new environmental conditions of Mars. We propose to investigate novel navigation and cooperation solutions allowing these systems to coordinate and operate in swarm formations in full autonomy in the context of challenging and hostile environment and in the absence of communication with a control centre. This study includes research on the use of computer-vision based algorithm for infrastructure-less navigation and self-localization, control of collective behaviour and design of various mission-oriented swarm formation. Flying and progressing in homogenous as well as heterogenous groups of unmanned vehicles require tight cooperation and synchronization that should be provided by algorithms adjusted to the environment such as that on Mars. 

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Dec 24, 2019