Biologically Inspired Visual Control of Flying Robots
Thesis DisciplineElectrical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Insects posses an incredible ability to navigate their environment at high speed, despite having small brains and limited visual acuity. Through selective pressure they have evolved computationally efficient means for simultaneously performing navigation tasks and instantaneous control responses. The insect’s main source of information is visual, and through a hierarchy of processes this information is used for perception; at the lowest level are local neurons for detecting image motion and edges, at the higher level are interneurons to spatially integrate the output of previous stages. These higher level processes could be considered as models of the insect's environment, reducing the amount of information to only that which evolution has determined relevant. The scope of this thesis is experimenting with biologically inspired visual control of flying robots through information processing, models of the environment, and flight behaviour.
In order to test these ideas I developed a custom quadrotor robot and experimental platform; the 'wasp' system. All algorithms ran on the robot, in real-time or better, and hypotheses were always verified with flight experiments.
I developed a new optical flow algorithm that is computationally efficient, and able to be applied in a regular pattern to the image. This technique is used later in my work when considering patterns in the image motion field. Using optical flow in the log-polar coordinate system I developed attitude estimation and time-to-contact algorithms. I find that the log-polar domain is useful for analysing global image motion; and in many ways equivalent to the retinotopic arrange- ment of neurons in the optic lobe of insects, used for the same task.
I investigated the role of depth in insect flight using two experiments. In the first experiment, to study how concurrent visual control processes might be combined, I developed a control system using the combined output of two algorithms. The first algorithm was a wide-field optical flow balance strategy and the second an obstacle avoidance strategy which used inertial information to estimate the depth to objects in the environment - objects whose depth was significantly different to their surround- ings. In the second experiment I created an altitude control system which used a model of the environment in the Hough space, and a biologically inspired sampling strategy, to efficiently detect the ground. Both control systems were used to control the flight of a quadrotor in an indoor environment.
The methods that insects use to perceive edges and control their flight in response had not been applied to artificial systems before. I developed a quadrotor control system that used the distribution of edges in the environment to regulate the robot height and avoid obstacles. I also developed a model that predicted the distribution of edges in a static scene, and using this prediction was able to estimate the quadrotor altitude.