PhD Defense by Takuma Nakamura

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  • Date/Time:
    • Tuesday July 24, 2018 - Wednesday July 25, 2018
      1:00 pm - 2:59 pm
  • Location: Montgomery Knight 317
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Summary Sentence: Multiple-Hypothesis Vision-Based Landing Autonomy

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Ph.D. Thesis Defense


Takuma Nakamura

(Advisor: Professor Eric N. Johnson)

Multiple-Hypothesis Vision-Based Landing Autonomy

1:00 PM, Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Montgomery Knight 317


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) need humans in the mission loop for many tasks, and

landing is one of the tasks that typically involves a human pilot. This is because of the complexity of a

maneuver itself and flight-critical factors such as recognition of a landing zone, collision avoidance,

assessment of landing sites, and decision to abort the maneuver. Another critical aspect to be

considered is the reliance of UAVs on GPS (global positioning system). A GPS system is not a reliable

solution for landing in some scenarios (e.g. delivering a package in an urban city, and a surveillance

UAV repatriating a home ship with the jammed signals), and a landing solely based on a GPS

extremely decreases the UAV operation envelope. Vision is promising to achieve fully autonomous

landing because it is a rich-sensing, light, affordable device that functions without any external

resource. Although vision is a powerful tool for autonomous landing, the use of vision for state

estimation requires extensive consideration. Firstly, vision-based landing faces a problem of occlusion.

The target detected at a high altitude would be lost at certain altitudes while a vehicle descends;

however, a small visual target can not be recognized at high altitude. Second, standard filtering

methods such as extended Kalman filter (EKF) faces difficulty due to the complex dynamics of the

measurement error created due to the discrete pixel space, conversion from the pixel to physical units,

the complex camera model, and complexity of detection algorithms. The vision sensor produces an

unfixed number of measurements with each image, and the measurements may include false positives.

Plus, the estimation system is excessively tasked in realistic conditions. The landing site would be

moving, tilted, or close to an obstacle. The available landing location may not be limited to one. In

addition to assessing these statuses, understanding the confidence of the estimations is also the tasks of

the vision, and the decisions to initiate, continue, and abort the mission are made based on the

estimated states and confidence. The system that handles those issues and consistently produces the

navigation solution while a vehicle lands eliminates one of the limitations of the autonomous UAV

operation. This thesis presents a novel state estimation system for UAV landing. In this system, vision

data is used to both estimate the state of the vehicle and map the state of the landing target (position,

velocity, and attitude) within the framework of simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). Using

the SLAM framework, the system becomes resilient to a loss of GPS and other sensor failures. A novel

vision algorithm that detects a portion of the marker is developed, and the stochastic properties of the

algorithm are studied. This algorithm extends the detectable range of the vision system for any known

marker. However, this vision algorithm produces highly nonlinear, non-Gaussian, and multi-modal

error distribution, and a naive implementation of filters would not accurately estimate the states. A

vision-aided navigation algorithm is derived within extended Kalman particle filter (PF-EKF) and Rao-

Blackwellized particle filter (RBPF) frameworks in addition to a standard EKF framework. These

multi-hypothesis approaches not only deal well with a highly non-linear and non-Gaussian distribution

of the measurement errors of vision but also results in numerically stable filters. The computational

costs are reduced compared to a naive implementation of particle filter, and these algorithms run in real

time. This system is validated through numerical simulation, image-in-the-loop simulation, and flight



Professor Eric N. Johnson, School of Aerospace Engineering (Advisor)

Professor Panagiotis Tsiotras, School of Aerospace Engineering

Professor Eric Feron, School of Aerospace Engineering

Professor James Hays, School of Computer Science

Professor Patricio Antonio Vela, School of Electrical Engineering

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Graduate Studies

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Phd Defense
  • Created By: Tatianna Richardson
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Jul 6, 2018 - 2:54pm
  • Last Updated: Jul 6, 2018 - 2:54pm