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sUAS Swarm Navigation using Inertial, Range Radios and Partial GNSS

Uijt de Haag, Maarten; Huschbeck, Svenja; Huff, Joel

Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) operations are increasing in demand and complexity. Using multiple cooperative sUAS (i.e. a swarm) can be beneficial and is sometimes necessary to perform certain tasks (e.g., precision agriculture, mapping, surveillance) either independent or collaboratively. However, controlling the flight of multiple sUAS autonomously and in real-time in a challenging environment in terms of obstacles and navigation requires highly accurate absolute and relative position and velocity information for all platforms in the swarm. This information is also necessary to effectively and efficiently resolve possible collision encounters between the sUAS. In our swarm, each platform is equipped with a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensor, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), a baro-altimeter and a relative range sensor (range radio). When GNSS is available, its measurements are tightly integrated with IMU, baro-altimeter and range-radio measurements to obtain the platform’s absolute and relative position. When GNSS is not available due to external factors (e.g., obstructions, interference), the position and velocity estimators switch to an integrated solution based on IMU, baro and relative range meas-urements. This solution enables the system to maintain an accurate relative position estimate, and reduce the drift in the swarm’s absolute position estimate as is typical of an IMU-based system. Multiple multi-copter data collection platforms have been developed and equipped with GNSS, inertial sensors and range radios, which were developed at Ohio University. This paper outlines the underlying methodology, the platform hardware components (three multi-copters and one ground station) and analyzes and discusses the performance using both simulation and sUAS flight test data.
Published in: 2019 IEEE/AIAA 38th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC), IEEE