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Urban search and rescue missions raise special requirements on robotic systems. Small aerial systems provide essential support to human task forces in situation assessment and surveillance. As external infrastructure for navigation and communication is usually not available, robotic systems must be able to operate autonomously. A limited payload of small aerial systems poses a great challenge to the system design. The optimal tradeoff between flight performance, sensors, and computing resources has to be found. Communication to external computers cannot be guaranteed; therefore, all processing and decision making has to be done on board. In this article, we present an unmanned aircraft system design fulfilling these requirements. The components of our system are structured into groups to encapsulate their functionality and interfaces. We use both laser and stereo vision odometry to enable seamless indoor and outdoor navigation. The odometry is fused with an inertial measurement unit in an extended Kalman filter. Navigation is supported by a module that recognizes known objects in the environment. A distributed computation approach is adopted to address the computational requirements of the used algorithms. The capabilities of the system are validated in flight experiments, using a quadrotor.
Date of Publication: Sept. 2012