This paper presents an algorithm and a system for vertical infrastructure inspection using a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle and shared autonomy. Inspecting vertical structures such as light and power distribution poles is a difficult task that is time-consuming, dangerous and expensive. Recently, micro VTOL platforms (i.e., quad-, hexa- and octa-rotors) have been rapidly gaining interest in research, military and even public domains. The unmanned, low-cost and VTOL properties of these platforms make them ideal for situations where inspection would otherwise be time-consuming and/or hazardous to humans. There are, however, challenges involved with developing such an inspection system, for example flying in close proximity to a target while maintaining a fixed stand-off distance from it, being immune to wind gusts and exchanging useful information with the remote user. To overcome these challenges, we require accurate and high-update rate state estimation and high performance controllers to be implemented onboard the vehicle. Ease of control and a live video feed are required for the human operator. We demonstrate a VTOL platform that can operate at close-quarters, whilst maintaining a safe stand-off distance and rejecting environmental disturbances. Two approaches are presented: Position-Based Visual Servoing (PBVS) using an Extended Kalman Filter (EKF) and estimator-free Image-Based Visual Servoing (IBVS). Both use monocular visual, inertia, and sonar data, allowing the approaches to be applied for indoor or GPS-impaired environments. We extensively compare the performances of PBVS and IBVS in terms of accuracy, robustness and computational costs. Results from simulations Sensors 2015, 15 22004 and indoor/outdoor (day and night) flight experiments demonstrate the system is able to successfully inspect and circumnavigate a vertical pole.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited