Visual Control of an Autonomous Indoor Robotic Blimp

Visual Control of an Autonomous Indoor Robotic Blimp

L. M. Alkurdi (University of Edinburgh, UK) and R. B. Fisher (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4607-0.ch040
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Abstract

The problem of visual control of an autonomous indoor blimp is investigated in this chapter. Autonomous aerial vehicles have been an attractive platform for a wide range of applications, especially since they don’t have the terrain limitations the autonomous ground vehicles face. They have been used for advertisements, terrain mapping, surveillance, and environmental research. Blimps are a special kind of autonomous aerial vehicles; they are wingless and have the ability to hover. This makes them overcome the maneuverability constraints winged aerial vehicles and helicopters suffer from. The authors’ blimp platform also provides an exciting platform for the application and testing of control algorithms. This is because blimps are notorious for the uncertainties within their mathematical model and their susceptibility for environmental disturbances such as wind gusts. The authors have successfully applied visual control by using a fuzzy logic controller on the robotic blimp to achieve autonomous waypoint tracking.
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Introduction

A blimp is a special kind of lighter-than-air airship; it does not have a rigid skeleton supporting its balloon. Blimp and airship automation has recently emerged as an attractive field of research due to their properties.

Unmanned aerial vehicles in general have advantages over unmanned ground vehicles. They are able to reach locations where it is hard for ground vehicles to reach due to hazards or terrain limitations. They also have the advantage of a larger field of view making them able to survey and collect data of a larger area of terrain at a given instance. Unmanned aerial vehicles are also faster and have better maneuverability.

Blimps also have advantages over winged unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters. Blimps have much safer failure degradation. They are able to hover over one area for a long time, achieve low altitude flights and do not suffer from maneuverability constraints. They also have minimal vibration and do not influence the environment they are in. The properties previously mentioned make them ideal for data collection, exploration, monitoring and research applications. They take off and land vertically. This means that they can be easily deployed with no need for a runway, which makes them attractive as platforms for rescue operations or as communication beacons when communication is cut-off from a certain area. Other attractive properties include long flight durations and low energy consumption as they depend on buoyancy to achieve vertical position. The blimp’s relatively slow speed makes it also an attractive platform for computationally expensive algorithms that need many state updates such as simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM).

Blimps have been studied as a viable platform for rapidly deployable communication beacons (Flahpour et al., 2009), advertisements and atmospheric data collection and analysis. They are also attractive for military operations such as surveillance and rapid equipment deployment. Blimps serve as an option for providing images and information about regions which have suffered natural catastrophes. Map building and localization of targets have also been studied through the work of LAAS/CNRS (Hygounenc, Soueres, & Lacroix, 2004). Astro-explorations are also an application studied by the Jet Propulsion laboratory at NASA (Kampke & Elfes, 2003).

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