Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. Dissertation Defense: “Interactive Planning and Sensing for Aircraft in Uncertain Environments with Spatiotemporally Evolving Threats” by Benjamin Cooper

Friday, November 30, 2018
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm


Floor/Room #: 
Benjamin Cooper
Aerospace Engineering Program







Autonomous aerial, terrestrial, and marine vehicles provide a platform for several applications including cargo transport, information gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and search-and-rescue. To enable such applications, two main technical problems are commonly addressed. On the one hand, the motion-planning problem addresses optimal motion to a destination: an application example is the delivery of a package in the shortest time with least fuel. Solutions to this problem often assume that all relevant information about the environment is available, possibly with some uncertainty. There is an underlying assumption of "separation" between the motion-planning algorithm and the information about environment. In the case of motion-planning, there is no reason to believe that such a separation between the motion-planning algorithm and the sources of estimated environment information will lead to optimal motion plans, even if the motion planner and the estimators are themselves optimal. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate whether the removal of this separation, via interactive motion-planning and sensing, can significantly improve the optimality of motion-planning.

The major contribution of this work is interactive planning and sensing. We consider the problem of planning the path of a vehicle, which we refer to as the actor, to traverse a threat field with minimum threat exposure. The threat field is an unknown, time-variant, and strictly positive scalar field defined on a compact 2D spatial domain, the actor's workspace. The threat field is estimated by a network of mobile sensors that can measure the threat field pointwise. All measurements are noisy. The objective is to determine a path for the actor to reach a desired goal with minimum risk, which is a measure sensitive not only to the threat exposure itself, but also to the uncertainty therein. A novelty of this problem setup is that the actor can communicate with the sensor network and request that the sensors position themselves in a procedure we call sensor reconfiguration such that the actor's risk is minimized.

Interactive planning and sensing is further developed for the case of time-varying environments. Within this scope, waiting is examined in the context of finding an optimal path with considerations for the cost of exposure to a threat field, the cost of movement, and the cost of waiting. For example, an application where waiting may be beneficial in motion-planning is the delivery of a package where adverse weather may pose a risk to the safety of a UAV and its cargo. In such scenarios, an optimal plan may include "waiting until the storm passes." This proposed extension allows for the evaluation of different mission windows, finite sensor network reconfiguration durations, finite planning durations, and varying number of available sensors.

Prof. Michael Demetriou