Hierarchical motion planning for autonomous aerial and terrestrial vehicles
Cowlagi, Raghvendra V.
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Autonomous mobile robots - both aerial and terrestrial vehicles - have gained immense importance due to the broad spectrum of their potential military and civilian applications. One of the indispensable requirements for the autonomy of a mobile vehicle is the vehicle's capability of planning and executing its motion, that is, finding appropriate control inputs for the vehicle such that the resulting vehicle motion satisfies the requirements of the vehicular task. The motion planning and control problem is inherently complex because it involves two disparate sub-problems: (1) satisfaction of the vehicular task requirements, which requires tools from combinatorics and/or formal methods, and (2) design of the vehicle control laws, which requires tools from dynamical systems and control theory. Accordingly, this problem is usually decomposed and solved over two levels of hierarchy. The higher level, called the geometric path planning level, finds a geometric path that satisfies the vehicular task requirements, e.g., obstacle avoidance. The lower level, called the trajectory planning level, involves sufficient smoothening of this geometric path followed by a suitable time parametrization to obtain a reference trajectory for the vehicle. Although simple and efficient, such hierarchical separation suffers a serious drawback: the geometric path planner has no information of the kinematic and dynamic constraints of the vehicle. Consequently, the geometric planner may produce paths that the trajectory planner cannot transform into a feasible reference trajectory. Two main ideas appear in the literature to remedy this problem: (a) randomized sampling-based planning, which eliminates altogether the geometric planner by planning in the vehicle state space, and (b) geometric planning supported by feedback control laws. The former class of methods suffer from a lack of optimality of the resultant trajectory, while the latter class of methods makes a restrictive assumption concerning the vehicle kinematic model. In this thesis, we propose a hierarchical motion planning framework based on a novel mode of interaction between these two levels of planning. This interaction rests on the solution of a special shortest-path problem on graphs, namely, one using costs defined on multiple edge transitions in the path instead of the usual single edge transition costs. These costs are provided by a local trajectory generation algorithm, which we implement using model predictive control and the concept of effective target sets for simplifying the non-convex constraints involved in the problem. The proposed motion planner ensures "consistency" between the two levels of planning, i.e., a guarantee that the higher level geometric path is always associated with a kinematically and dynamically feasible trajectory. We show that the proposed motion planning approach offers distinct advantages in comparison with the competing approaches of discretization of the state space, of randomized sampling-based motion planning, and of local feedback-based, decoupled hierarchical motion planning. Finally, we propose a multi-resolution implementation of the proposed motion planner, which requires accurate descriptions of the environment and the vehicle only for short-term, local motion planning in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle.