Autonomous flight at low altitude using light sensors and little computational power
The ability to fly at low altitude while actively avoiding collisions with the terrain and objects such as trees and buildings is a great challenge for small unmanned aircraft. This paper builds on top of a control strategy called optiPilot whereby a series of optic-flow detectors pointed at divergent viewing directions around the aircraft main axis are linearly combined into roll and pitch commands using two sets of weights. This control strategy already proved successful at controlling flight and avoiding collisions in reactive navigation experiments. This paper describes how optiPilot can efficiently steer a flying platform during the critical phases of hand-launched take off and landing. It then shows how optiPilot can be coupled with a GPS in order to provide goal-directed, nap-of-the-earth flight control in presence of obstacles. Two fully autonomous flights of 25 minutes each are described where a 400-gram unmanned aircraft flies at approx. 10 m above ground in a circular path including two copses of trees requiring efficient collision avoidance actions.