Landing site selection for UAV forced landings using machine vision

Fitzgerald, Daniel Liam (2007) Landing site selection for UAV forced landings using machine vision. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


A forced landing for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is required if there is an emergency on board that requires the aircraft to land immediately. Piloted aircraft in the same scenario have a human on board that is able to engage in the complex decision making process involved in the choice of a suitable landing location. If UAVs are to ever fly routinely in civilian airspace, then it is argued that the problem of finding a safe landing location for a forced landing is an important unresolved problem that must be addressed.

This thesis presents the results of an investigation into the feasibility of using machine vision techniques to locate candidate landing sites for an autonomous UAV forced landing. The approach taken involves the segmentation of the image into areas that are large enough and free of obstacles; classification of the surface types of these areas; incorporating slope information from readily available digital terrain databases; and finally fusing these maps together using a high level set of simple linguistic fuzzy rules to create a final candidate landing site map. All techniques were evaluated on actual flight data collected from a Cessna 172 flying in South East Queensland.

It was shown that the use of existing segmentation approaches from the literature did not provide the outputs required for this problem in the airborne images encountered in the gathered dataset. A simple method was then developed and tested that provided suitably sized landing areas that were free of obstacles and large enough to land. The advantage of this novel approach was that these areas could be extracted from the image directly without solving the difficult task of segmenting the entire image into the individual homogenous objects.

A number of neural network classification approaches were tested with the surface types of candidate landing site regions extracted from the aerial images. A number of novel techniques were developed through experimentation with the classifiers that greatly improved upon the classification accuracy of the standard approaches considered. These novel techniques included: automatic generation of suitable output subclasses based on generic output classes of the classifier; an optimisation process for generating the best set of input features for the classifier based on an automated analysis of the feature space; the use of a multi-stage classification approach; and the generation of confidence measures based on the outputs of the neural network classifiers. The final classification result of the system performs significantly better than a human test pilot's classification interpretation of the dataset samples.

In summary, the algorithms were able to locate candidate landing site areas that were free of obstacles 92.3 ±2.6% (99% confidence in the result) of the time, with free obstacle candidate landing site areas that were large enough to land in missed only 5.3 ±2.2% (99% confidence in the result) of the time.

The neural network classification networks developed were able to classify the surface type of the candidate landing site areas to an accuracy of 93.9 ±3.7% (99% confidence in the result) for areas labelled as Very Certain. The overall surface type classification accuracy for the system (includes all candidate landing sites) was 91.95 ±4.2% (99% confidence in the result). These results were considered to be an excellent result as a human test pilot subject was only able to classify the same data set to an accuracy of 77.24 %.

The thesis concludes that the techniques developed showed considerable promise and could be used immediately to enhance the safety of UAV operations. Recommendations include the testing of algorithms over a wider range of datasets and improvements to the surface type classification approach that incorporates contextual information in the image to further improve the classification accuracy.

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ID Code: 16510
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Walker, Rodney & Campbell, Duncan
Keywords: Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV), UAV forced landing, UAV emergency landing, safe landing site selection, aerial robotics, image segmentation, image classification, Artificial Neural Network (ANN), UAV civilian airspace integration
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Past > Schools > School of Engineering Systems
Department: Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Daniel Liam Fitzgerald
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:04
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2013 01:30

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