An Algorithm for Formation-Based Chemical Plume Tracing Using Robotic Marine Vehicles
Robotic chemical plume tracing is a growing area of research, with envisioned real-world applications including pollution tracking, search and rescue, and ecosystem identification. However, following a chemical signal in the water is not an easy task due to the nature of chemical transport and to limitations in sensing and communication. In this paper, we propose an approach for near-surface waterborne plume tracing using a combined team of autonomous surface and underwater vehicles. All vehicles are equipped with appropriate chemical sensors and acoustic modems. The team moves in a triangular formation, while using the flow direction and the samples obtained to steer the group along the plume. Leader vehicles at the surface implement a formation controller based on Laplacian feedback while the underwater vehicle performs acoustic ranging to the leaders. The solution was evaluated using a CFD simulation of a freshwater plume and a calibrated dynamic model of the MEDUSA autonomous marine vehicles. The group is able to move in a stable formation, sample the salinity, and trace the plume to its source.