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Unmanned Aerial Systems

We aim to develop technologies allowing to build low cost UAS and to manage them for a wide range of civil missions while achieving high levels of automation and autonomy.

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Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) are low cost vehicles that can fly without a human pilot on board. These caracteristics are specially interesting for operating in D-cub situations, this is, Dull, Dirty and Dangerous. At the moment, the main advances in the UAVs technologies come from the military research, but their multiple challenges and uses in the civil world are generating much interest on UAVs. Some examples of situations were UAVs can be of a great interest are:

  • Environmental Applications
  • Emergency Management
  • Communications
  • Surveillance and Monitoring

 

Unmanned Aircraft System Current Research


An Architecture for the Integration of UAS Civil Applications

Currently, UAS are mostly being used for military applications, but with the evolution of avionics technology, a huge market in civil applications is now emerging. However, there is a lack of hardware and software support to develop UAS potentialities for the different civil domains. In order to build economically viable UAS solution for civil applications, the same platform should be able to implement a variety of missions with little reconfiguration time and overhead. This research line design and implement an innovative software architecture for UAS called UAS Service Abstraction Layer (USAL). The objectives of the USAL are to allow the easy and fast mission design and to solve, in a cost-effective way, the re-usability of the platform. The existence of an open-framework avionics package specifically designed for UAS alleviates the development costs, allowing them to be redesigned for different missions by a simple parameterization. For this software abstraction layer, a distributed service oriented architecture (SOA) is used. Functional units are implemented as independent services that interact with each other using a Local Area Network (LAN).

 

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From the study of UAS civil missions and the state of the art in the design of UAS architecture, an exhaustive list of self-content services needed in almost all UAS civil missions is offered. Thus, the USAL provides a list of common services needed to develop the different civil missions identified. These services have been organized into four different categories, each containing services that cooperate in the same main objective such as Flight, Mission, Payload and Awareness.

 

 
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Flight Plan and Mission Management

Most current commercial solutions, if not remotely piloted, rely on waypoint based flight control systems for their navigation and are unable to coordinate UAS flight with payload operation. We believe that increased automation, together with reconfiguration capabilities and cost-effectiveness, are key requirements for UAS to be successful in the civil domain. The resulting platform should be affordable and able to operate in different application scenarios with reduced human intervention.
 

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Our group works in the development of a reconfigurable mission management system with the Flight Plan Manager and the Mission Manager at its core. The Flight Plan Manager is responsible for governing the UAS flight, while the Mission Manager orchestrates operation of embarked services. These services operate on top of a commercial off-the-shelf flight control system improving the automation capabilities of the UAS while taking advantage of available technologies.
 

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Reconfiguration is made possible by separating flight and mission execution from its specification. The flight plan and the mission behavior are specified in two separate documents that are respectively submitted to the Flight Plan Manager and the Mission Manager. In this way, these services, act as execution engines able to process and execute the submitted specifications and enable the Unmanned Aircraft System to adapt to a wide range of missions.
 

Communications Middleware for Embedded Avionics Applications

The main asset of this research is a middleware-based architecture specially suited to operate as a flexible payload and mission controller in a UAV. The system is composed of a number of low-cost computing devices connected by a network. The functionality of the system is divided in reusable services that can be distributed over the different nodes of the network. A middleware manages the lifecycle and the communication between services, operating the global system as a Distributed Embedded System. The communication primitives are mainly publish-subscribe based, however two-way synchronous communication, i.e remote procedure calls are also available for the services. Additional efforts have been placed in some specifics of the UAV avionics domain, in special the interoperation with unreliable and high-latency point-to-point networks. The system not only comprises the hardware onboard the airframe, it can be extended to several UAVs and the ground control station. This problematic is managed by special nodes called Communication Gateways that act as transparent proxies for the services located away. A lot of research has been done in the area of avionics middleware; however it is mainly focused on the control domain and in the real-time operation of the middleware. Our proposal differs in that we address the implementation of easily adaptable and reconfigurable unmanned missions in low-cost and low-resources hardware. The proposed middleware architecture offers simplicity, adaptability, network transparency and a high-level vision that eases the development of this sort of missions.



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ICARUS Project: Wildfire Surveillance

The objective of the ICARUS Project is to develop an on-board system for UAV targeted to detection, control and analysis of forest fires. The data processing, acquired in real-time through the UAV, should allow the decision makers to optimize the strategies in the fire mitigation.
 

The reasons for constructing a system for UAV wildfire surveillance are many. Following we mention some of them:
 

  • Smoke generated by fire covers the forest area and interferes the acquisition of information about the fire evolution.
  • The coordinator of the mitigation team must fly over the fire extension, leaving the control centre during a long period of time.
  • Nocturnal fly of in presence of dense smoke are extremely dangerous
  • Danger can also affect to the firemen on ground because the fast evolution of fire fronts. Today technologies for data acquisition may not be sufficiently fast to take the right decisions on time.

The following components are part of the system:

  • On-board UAV Platform
  • Flight Control Station
  • Processing Station with GIS Capabilities
  • Communications Infrastructure