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Autonomous Off-road Navigation over Extreme Terrains with Perceptually-challenging Conditions

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We propose a framework for resilient autonomous navigation in perceptually challenging unknown environments with mobility-stressing elements such as uneven surfaces with rocks and boulders, steep slopes, negative obstacles like cliffs and holes, and narrow passages. Environments are GPS-denied and perceptually-degraded with variable lighting from dark to lit and obscurants (dust, fog, smoke). Lack of prior maps and degraded communication eliminates the possibility of prior or off-board computation or operator intervention. This necessitates real-time on-board computation using noisy sensor data. To address these challenges, we propose a resilient architecture that exploits redundancy and heterogeneity in sensing modalities. Further resilience is achieved by triggering recovery behaviors upon failure. We propose a fast settling algorithm to generate robust multi-fidelity traversability estimates in real-time. The proposed approach was deployed on multiple physical systems including skid-steer and tracked robots, a high-speed RC car and legged robots, as a part of Team CoSTAR's effort to the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, where the team won 2nd and 1st place in the Tunnel and Urban Circuits, respectively.


NeBula: Quest for Robotic Autonomy in Challenging Environments; TEAM CoSTAR at the DARPA Subterranean Challenge

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

This paper presents and discusses algorithms, hardware, and software architecture developed by the TEAM CoSTAR (Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots), competing in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. Specifically, it presents the techniques utilized within the Tunnel (2019) and Urban (2020) competitions, where CoSTAR achieved 2nd and 1st place, respectively. We also discuss CoSTAR's demonstrations in Martian-analog surface and subsurface (lava tubes) exploration. The paper introduces our autonomy solution, referred to as NeBula (Networked Belief-aware Perceptual Autonomy). NeBula is an uncertainty-aware framework that aims at enabling resilient and modular autonomy solutions by performing reasoning and decision making in the belief space (space of probability distributions over the robot and world states). We discuss various components of the NeBula framework, including: (i) geometric and semantic environment mapping; (ii) a multi-modal positioning system; (iii) traversability analysis and local planning; (iv) global motion planning and exploration behavior; (i) risk-aware mission planning; (vi) networking and decentralized reasoning; and (vii) learning-enabled adaptation. We discuss the performance of NeBula on several robot types (e.g. wheeled, legged, flying), in various environments. We discuss the specific results and lessons learned from fielding this solution in the challenging courses of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge competition.


3D Multi-Robot Patrolling with a Two-Level Coordination Strategy

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Teams of UGVs patrolling harsh and complex 3D environments can experience interference and spatial conflicts with one another. Neglecting the occurrence of these events crucially hinders both soundness and reliability of a patrolling process. This work presents a distributed multi-robot patrolling technique, which uses a two-level coordination strategy to minimize and explicitly manage the occurrence of conflicts and interference. The first level guides the agents to single out exclusive target nodes on a topological map. This target selection relies on a shared idleness representation and a coordination mechanism preventing topological conflicts. The second level hosts coordination strategies based on a metric representation of space and is supported by a 3D SLAM system. Here, each robot path planner negotiates spatial conflicts by applying a multi-robot traversability function. Continuous interactions between these two levels ensure coordination and conflicts resolution. Both simulations and real-world experiments are presented to validate the performances of the proposed patrolling strategy in 3D environments. Results show this is a promising solution for managing spatial conflicts and preventing deadlocks.


A Data-Driven Approach for Autonomous Motion Planning and Control in Off-Road Driving Scenarios

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

This paper presents a novel data-driven approach to vehicle motion planning and control in off-road driving scenarios. For autonomous off-road driving, environmental conditions impact terrain traversability as a function of weather, surface composition, and slope. Geographical information system (GIS) and National Centers for Environmental Information datasets are processed to provide this information for interactive planning and control system elements. A top-level global route planner (GRP) defines optimal waypoints using dynamic programming (DP). A local path planner (LPP) computes a desired trajectory between waypoints such that infeasible control states and collisions with obstacles are avoided. The LPP also updates the GRP with real-time sensing and control data. A low-level feedback controller applies feedback linearization to asymptotically track the specified LPP trajectory. Autonomous driving simulation results are presented for traversal of terrains in Oregon and Indiana case studies.


Online Mapping and Motion Planning under Uncertainty for Safe Navigation in Unknown Environments

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Safe autonomous navigation is an essential and challenging problem for robots operating in highly unstructured or completely unknown environments. Under these conditions, not only robotic systems must deal with limited localisation information, but also their manoeuvrability is constrained by their dynamics and often suffer from uncertainty. In order to cope with these constraints, this manuscript proposes an uncertainty-based framework for mapping and planning feasible motions online with probabilistic safety-guarantees. The proposed approach deals with the motion, probabilistic safety, and online computation constraints by: (i) incrementally mapping the surroundings to build an uncertainty-aware representation of the environment, and (ii) iteratively (re)planning trajectories to goal that are kinodynamically feasible and probabilistically safe through a multi-layered sampling-based planner in the belief space. In-depth empirical analyses illustrate some important properties of this approach, namely, (a) the multi-layered planning strategy enables rapid exploration of the high-dimensional belief space while preserving asymptotic optimality and completeness guarantees, and (b) the proposed routine for probabilistic collision checking results in tighter probability bounds in comparison to other uncertainty-aware planners in the literature. Furthermore, real-world in-water experimental evaluation on a non-holonomic torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle and simulated trials in the Stairwell scenario of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge 2019 on a quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle demonstrate the efficacy of the method as well as its suitability for systems with limited on-board computational power.