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Autonomous Soaring for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Autonomous Soaring for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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NRL researchers have developed a way to extend the endurance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by exploiting the naturally occurring rising air currents known as thermals. Unlike a typical UAV autopilot, which naively attempts to reject these atmospheric “disturbances,” the new system adapts its flight path to maximize energy extraction.

2011 NRL Review

http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/publications/nrl-review/
NRL researchers have developed a way to extend the endurance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by exploiting the naturally occurring rising air currents known as thermals. Unlike a typical UAV autopilot, which naively attempts to reject these atmospheric “disturbances,” the new system adapts its flight path to maximize energy extraction.

2011 NRL Review

http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/publications/nrl-review/

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Published by: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory on Mar 19, 2013
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12/12/2013

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B
y using the naturally occurring air currents knownas thermals, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) candramatically extend their operational endurance. NRLresearchers demonstrated autonomous soaring using anunpowered, winch-launched unmanned sailplane, which soaredwithin thermals to y a notional road-monitoring mission for 5.3 hours beyond its nominal 3-minute capability. Since theautonomous soaring technology can be implemented as asoftware upgrade to existing UAV autopilots, NRL’s TacticalElectronic Warfare Division expects that other UAVs such asthe hydrogen-powered Ion Tiger will soar to new heights andlonger ight times.
UAV’s Endurance Gets a Lift byLatching onto Thermals
Up, up, and away…
Caption: Using autonomous soaring algorithms, an unpowered sailplane few a 113.5 km course in 4.5 hours.
 
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2011 NRL REVIEW
INTRODUCTION
Teincreasinguseosmallunmannedaerialve-hicles(UAVs)inmilitaryandcivilianapplicationshasbeenaccompaniedbyagrowingdemandorimprovedenduranceandrange.Tesedemandshavebeentypi-callyaddressedbyimprovementsinaerodynamicandstructuralefciency,improveduel-efcientpropulsionsystems,andtheongoingminiaturizationoonboardcomputerandpayloadsystems.Recently,moreatten-tionhasbeengiventotheextractionoenergyromtheatmosphere.Aircracanmakeuseoatmosphericupdras,orthermals,togainaltitudewithoutexpen-ditureoonboarduelstores.Byintelligentlytrackingthermals,anunmannedaircracanextenditsrangeorendurancewithoutcarryingadditionaluelorspecial-izedsensors.However,currentUAVautopilotsattempttorejectthermalsandotheratmosphericperturbations.Enablingautonomoussoaringrequiredthedevelop-mentoathermalidenticationrameworkthatcouldefcientlycompareautopilotsensordatatoathermalmodel,allowingtheautopilottodeterminewhenitisyinginathermalandchoosethebestightpathtomaximizeenergyextraction.Tisbasicsoaringunctionalitywaswrappedwithamissionmanagementalgorithmthatmaintainedthebalancebetweensoaringandtimelyarrivalattherequireddestination.Finally,thethermalidenticationandmissionmanagementalgorithmswereimplementedonaUAVsailplaneor
Autonoous Soaring for Unannd Arial Vicls
D.J.EdwardsandM.Hazard
Tactical Electronic Warare Division
N
RLresearchershavedevelopedawaytoextendtheenduranceounmannedaerialvehicles(UAVs)byexploit-ingthenaturallyoccurringrisingaircurrentsknownasthermals.UnlikeatypicalUAVautopilot,whichnaivelyattemptstorejecttheseatmospheric“disturbances,”thenewsystemadaptsitsightpathtomaximizeenergyextraction.Tesystemdetectsthepresenceorisingairusingonboardsensors,ndsthecenterothethermal,andredirectstheguidancesystemtocircleinthethermal.Tesealgorithmswereincorporatedintoanunmannedsailplane,awinch-launchedaircrawithanominalenduranceoonly3min.Withautonomoussoaringengaged,theunpowered vehiclewasabletoyormorethan5.3h.Becauseimplementingautonomoussoaringmightbeassimpleasasowareupgrade—UAVsalreadycarrythenecessarysensorsorthermaldetection—thisenablingtechnologycouldbewidelydeployedatlowcost.OurcurrentresearchocusesonextendingthesebenetstopoweredUAVssuchasthehydrogenuelcellpoweredIoniger.Tisarticlepresentsanoverviewotheautonomoussoaringalgorithms,ighttestresults,andpotentialdirectionsorcontinuedresearch.
ighttesting.Tisarticlegivesanoverviewothermalsensingandidentication,soaringguidance,andighttestingresults.
TheRmA UpDRATS
Termalupdrasarenaturallyoccurringatmo-sphericconvectioncurrentsthatarecreatedbyunevenheatingotheEarth’ssurace.Radiantsolarenergyisabsorbedbyterrainandtranserredtotheair.Iaparceloairbecomeswarmerthanitssurroundings,itwillriselikeabubbleinaboilingpotowater,creat-ingathermal.Eachparcelowarmairinthethermalcontinuesascending(andexpanding)untilitcoolstothetemperatureothesurroundingairandisnolongerbuoyant.Dependingonatmosphericconditions,thetopothethermalmaybehundredsorthousandsometersabovethesurace.Termalormationandevolutionareinuencedbyterraintextureandalbedo,timeoday,andambientmeteorologicalconditions.Teseactorsmakeaccuratelymodelingthermalactivityadifculttask.Computationaluiddynam-ics(CFD)toolssuchaslarge-eddysimulationcouldbeusedtomodelthermalswithhighdelity,buttheircomputationalcostmakesthemill-suitedorreal-timesimulationorcontrol.Instead,asimplermodelthatapproximatesthe verticalwindproleoasinglethermalisused.oreducethecomplexityothemodel,severalassump-tionsaremade:athermalisradiallysymmetricabout
 
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|featured research
acenterpoint,doesnotcreatehorizontalwinds,driswiththeambientwindvelocity,andisinvariantwithaltitudeandtime.Figure1showsthemodiedthree-dimensionalGaussiandistributionchosentorepresent verticalwindspeedsinathermal.Itsmaineaturesarethecharacteristic“core”regionorisingairandaringosinkingairaroundthecore.Tisreduced-ordermodelisbasedonourparameters:thetwo-dimension-alcenterlocation,peakupdrastrength,andcharacter-isticradius.Tesimpliedmodelisonecomponentotheautonomoussoaringramework.Wealsoneedsomewaytomeasuretheinstantaneousverticalwindspeed,andasystematicwaytoupdatetheestimatedthermallocationbasedonverticalwindspeedmeasurements.
SeNSIN TheRmAS
Teupdramodelrepresentsadistributiono verticalwindmotion,whichisnoteasytomeasuredirectlyromamovingaircra.Instead,weexaminedtheproblemromanenergy/powerperspective.Ingeneral,thetotalenergyotheaircrasystemiscon-servedasideromworkdoneontheaircrabyexternalorces:thrust,drag,andanyatmosphericcontributions.Knowncontributorssuchasthrustanddragcanbedi-rectlycompensatedbasedonwindtunnelandighttestdata,leavingan“atmosphericpower”signal.Ithermalsaretheonlyatmosphericcontribution,thispowermea-surementisequivalenttoverticalwindspeedmeasure-mentandiscompatiblewithourlow-ordermodel.Accuratemeasurementotheaircrasspecicpowerstatecanbeachievedusingthesamesuiteosensorscarriedinatypicalautopilot.Initialinvestiga-tionscomputedtotalenergybasedonaltitudeandairspeedmeasurements,andthennumericallydieren-tiatedthissignaltoestimatetheinstantaneouspower.Tedierentiationstepreducedthequalityothedata,especiallywiththelow-resolutionsensorstypicalosmallUAVs.Inourimprovedsystem,thepowerstateiscomputeddirectlyusingtheonboardthree-axisaccelerometer,GPSvelocity,andGPSpositionmea-surements.Tisalleviatestheneedtodierentiateandsignicantlyimprovesthedataquality.Tepowersig-nalisthencompensatedordrageectsusingexperi-mentalsinkpolardataandorthrusteectsusingwindtunnelpropellerefciencydata.Anyremainingpowercontribution,whetherpositiveornegative,isassumedtocomeromtheatmosphere.Figure2showsthecom-pensatedspecicpowersignalorarepresentativeightpaththatintersectsathermal.InFig.2,warmercolorsshowasterverticalairmotionandcoolercolorsshowlittleornoverticalairmotion.Qualitatively,wecanseeaspecicpowerdis-tributionthatmatcheskeycomponentsotheupdramodel,includingacircularshapearoundalocalpeak.Tesemeasurementscanbecorrelatedwiththelow-orderupdramodeltoestimatethethermalparam-etersthatbestttheightdata.
TheRmA pARAmeTeR IDeNTIICATION
Givenverticalwindspeedmeasurements,thenextcomponentisanalgorithmtoreducetheightdataintoparametersthatcanbeusedtoguidetheaircra.Ourresearchinvestigatedtwooptions:batchmethods,whichaccumulatesensortimehistoryanditerativelysolveorthemodelparameters;andrecursivemethods,whichonlyusethemostrecentdatatoquicklyupdateapreviousparameterestimate.Ingeneral,recursivemethodstradeabsoluteaccuracyorlowercompu-tationalburden.Reducingcomputationalburdenisimportanttostaywithintheweightandpowerrequire-mentsoasmallUAV.TebatchmethodisbasedonasimilarapproachdevelopedbyJohnWharingtonthatusedanadaptiveneuralnetwork.
1
oreducecomputationalworkload
FIGURE 1
Modied Gaussian distribution updraft cross-section.
FIGURE 2
Measurement of specic power distribution of a thermal.

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