Imaging and localisation software demonstrator for planetary aerobots

Publication from Digital

Dave Barnes, Andy Shaw, Phil Summers, Roger Ward, Mark Woods, Malcolm Evans, Paar G, Mark Sims

Proc. DASIA 2004 - DAta Systems In Aerospace, June 28 – July 1, 2004, Nice , 7/2004


Aerobot technology is generating a good deal of interest in planetary exploration circles. Balloon based aerobots have much to offer ESA’s Aurora programme, e.g. high resolution mapping, landing site selection, rover guidance, data relay, sample site selection, payload delivery, and atmospheric measurement. Aerobots could be used in a variety of configurations from uncontrolled freeflying to tethered rover operation, and are able to perform a range of important tasks which other exploration vehicles cannot. In many ways they provide a missing ‘piece’ of the exploration ‘jigsaw’, acting as a bridge between the capabilities of in-situ rovers and non-contact orbiters. Technically, a Lighter then Air (LTA) aerobot concept is attractive because it is low risk, low-cost, efficient, and much less complex than Heavier than Air (HTA) vehicles such as fixed wing gliders, and crucially, much of the required technology ‘building blocks’ currently exist. Smart imaging and localisation is a key enabling technology for remote aerobots. Given the current lack of comprehensive localisation and communications systems, it is important that aerobots are equipped with the ability to determine their location, with respect ¤This work is being funded under the ESA Contract No. 17400/03/NL/CH. The authors would like to thank G. Visentin (ESA D/TOS), Head of Automation and Robotics Section, and C. Hansen (IMT-CTM), Contracts Officer, for their collaboration with this work. to a planet’s surface, to a suitable accuracy and in a self-sufficient way. The availability of a variety of terrain feature extraction, point tracking, and image compression algorithms, means that such a self-reliant system is now achievable. We are currently developing a demonstrator imaging and localisation package (ILP) for a Martian balloon. This ILP system will incorporate a unique combination of image based relative and absolute localisation techniques. We propose to demonstrate our ILP using both simulation and a real laboratory based model aerobot. The availability of both simulated and real aerobot data will provide a comprehensive test and evaluation framework for the ILP functionality.