WhitepaperDrogue Tracking Using 3D Flash LIDAR for Autonomous Aerial Refuelling

February 12, 2016by ASC3D

Authors: Chao-I Chen* and Dr. Roger Stettner
Advanced Scientific Concepts, Inc., 135 E. Ortega Street, Santa Barbara, CA, USA 93101


Autonomous aerial refueling (AAR) is an important capability for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to increase its flying range and endurance without increasing its size. This paper presents a novel tracking method that utilizes both 2D intensity and 3D point-cloud data acquired with a 3D Flash LIDAR sensor to establish relative position and orientation between the receiver vehicle and drogue during an aerial refueling process. Unlike classic, vision-based sensors, a 3D Flash LIDAR sensor can provide 3D point-cloud data in real time without motion blur, in the day or night, and is capable of imaging through fog and clouds. The proposed method segments out the drogue through 2D analysis and estimates the center of the drogue from 3D point-cloud data for flight trajectory determination. A level-set front propagation routine is first employed to identify the target of interest and establish its silhouette information. Sufficient domain knowledge, such as the size of the drogue and the expected operable distance, is integrated into our approach to quickly eliminate unlikely target candidates. A statistical analysis along with a random sample consensus (RANSAC) is performed on the target to reduce noise and estimate the center of the drogue after all 3D points on the drogue are identified. The estimated center and drogue silhouette serve as the seed points to efficiently locate the target in the next frame.

Keywords: autonomous aerial refueling, 3D Flash LIDAR, unmanned aerial vehicle, level set, 3D point-cloud, tracking, target identification

Advanced Scientific Concepts LLC (ASC) is a leading provider of real time, global shutter, solid-state, 3D flash LIDAR (3DFL) ranging/imaging systems. Our 3DFL technology offers superior distortion free scene range/intensity mapping capabilities required for real time mapping, guidance navigation & control, situational awareness, tracking, and augmented reality applications.

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