This paper addresses the problem of autonomous robotic inspection in complex and unknown environments. This capability is crucial for efficient and precise inspections in various real-world scenarios, even when faced with perceptual uncertainty and lack of prior knowledge of the environment. Existing methods for real-world autonomous inspections typically rely on predefined targets and waypoints and often fail to adapt to dynamic or unknown settings. In this work, we introduce the Semantic Belief Behavior Graph (SB2G) framework as a novel approach to semantic-aware autonomous robot inspection. SB2G generates a control policy for the robot, featuring behavior nodes that encapsulate various semantic-based policies designed for inspecting different classes of objects. We design an active semantic search behavior to guide the robot in locating objects for inspection while reducing semantic information uncertainty. The edges in the SB2G encode transitions between these behaviors. We validate our approach through simulation and real-world urban inspections using a legged robotic platform. Our results show that SB2G enables a more efficient inspection policy, exhibiting performance comparable to human-operated inspections.
The task of establishing and maintaining situational awareness in an unknown environment is a critical step to fulfil in a mission related to the field of rescue robotics. Predominantly, the problem of visual inspection of urban structures is dealt with view-planning being addressed by map-based approaches. In this article, we propose a novel approach towards effective use of Micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) for obtaining a 3-D shape of an unknown structure of objects utilizing a map-independent planning framework. The problem is undertaken via a bifurcated approach to address the task of executing a closer inspection of detected structures with a wider exploration strategy to identify and locate nearby structures, while being equipped with limited sensing capability. The proposed framework is evaluated experimentally in a controlled indoor environment in presence of a mock-up environment validating the efficacy of the proposed inspect-explore policy.
The article develops an impact-resilient aerial robot (s-ARQ) equipped with a compliant arm to sense contacts and reduce collision impact and featuring a real-time contact force estimator and a non-linear motion controller to handle collisions while performing aggressive maneuvers and stabilize from high-speed wall collisions. Further, a new collision-inclusive planning method that aims to prioritize contacts to facilitate aerial robot navigation in cluttered environments is proposed. A range of simulated and physical experiments demonstrate key benefits of the robot and the contact-prioritized (CP) planner. Experimental results show that the compliant robot has only a $4\%$ weight increase but around $40\%$ impact reduction in drop tests and wall collision tests. s-ARQ can handle collisions while performing aggressive maneuvers and stabilize from high-speed wall collisions at $3.0$ m/s with a success rate of $100\%$. Our proposed compliant robot and contact-prioritized planning method can accelerate computation time while having shorter trajectory time and larger clearances compared to A$^\ast$ and RRT$^\ast$ planners with velocity constraints. Online planning tests in partially-known environments further demonstrate the preliminary feasibility of our method to apply in practical use cases.
Modeling dynamics is often the first step to making a vehicle autonomous. While on-road autonomous vehicles have been extensively studied, off-road vehicles pose many challenging modeling problems. An off-road vehicle encounters highly complex and difficult-to-model terrain/vehicle interactions, as well as having complex vehicle dynamics of its own. These complexities can create challenges for effective high-speed control and planning. In this paper, we introduce a framework for multistep dynamics prediction that explicitly handles the accumulation of modeling error and remains scalable for sampling-based controllers. Our method uses a specially-initialized Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) over a limited time horizon as the learned component in a hybrid model to predict the dynamics of a 4-person seating all-terrain vehicle (Polaris S4 1000 RZR) in two distinct environments. By only having the LSTM predict over a fixed time horizon, we negate the need for long term stability that is often a challenge when training recurrent neural networks. Our framework is flexible as it only requires odometry information for labels. Through extensive experimentation, we show that our method is able to predict millions of possible trajectories in real-time, with a time horizon of five seconds in challenging off road driving scenarios.
To achieve autonomy in unknown and unstructured environments, we propose a method for semantic-based planning under perceptual uncertainty. This capability is crucial for safe and efficient robot navigation in environment with mobility-stressing elements that require terrain-specific locomotion policies. We propose the Semantic Belief Graph (SBG), a geometric- and semantic-based representation of a robot's probabilistic roadmap in the environment. The SBG nodes comprise of the robot geometric state and the semantic-knowledge of the terrains in the environment. The SBG edges represent local semantic-based controllers that drive the robot between the nodes or invoke an information gathering action to reduce semantic belief uncertainty. We formulate a semantic-based planning problem on SBG that produces a policy for the robot to safely navigate to the target location with minimal traversal time. We analyze our method in simulation and present real-world results with a legged robotic platform navigating multi-level outdoor environments.
We present a method for solving the coverage problem with the objective of autonomously exploring an unknown environment under mission time constraints. Here, the robot is tasked with planning a path over a horizon such that the accumulated area swept out by its sensor footprint is maximized. Because this problem exhibits a diminishing returns property known as submodularity, we choose to formulate it as a tree-based sequential decision making process. This formulation allows us to evaluate the effects of the robot's actions on future world coverage states, while simultaneously accounting for traversability risk and the dynamic constraints of the robot. To quickly find near-optimal solutions, we propose an effective approximation to the coverage sensor model which adapts to the local environment. Our method was extensively tested across various complex environments and served as the local exploration algorithm for a competing entry in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.
This article presents a 3D point cloud map-merging framework for egocentric heterogeneous multi-robot exploration, based on overlap detection and alignment, that is independent of a manual initial guess or prior knowledge of the robots' poses. The novel proposed solution utilizes state-of-the-art place recognition learned descriptors, that through the framework's main pipeline, offer a fast and robust region overlap estimation, hence eliminating the need for the time-consuming global feature extraction and feature matching process that is typically used in 3D map integration. The region overlap estimation provides a homogeneous rigid transform that is applied as an initial condition in the point cloud registration algorithm Fast-GICP, which provides the final and refined alignment. The efficacy of the proposed framework is experimentally evaluated based on multiple field multi-robot exploration missions in underground environments, where both ground and aerial robots are deployed, with different sensor configurations.
In active source seeking, a robot takes repeated measurements in order to locate a signal source in a cluttered and unknown environment. A key component of an active source seeking robot planner is a model that can produce estimates of the signal at unknown locations with uncertainty quantification. This model allows the robot to plan for future measurements in the environment. Traditionally, this model has been in the form of a Gaussian process, which has difficulty scaling and cannot represent obstacles. %In this work, We propose a global and local factor graph model for active source seeking, which allows the model to scale to a large number of measurements and represent unknown obstacles in the environment. We combine this model with extensions to a highly scalable planner to form a system for large-scale active source seeking. We demonstrate that our approach outperforms baseline methods in both simulated and real robot experiments.
Experimental design in field robotics is an adaptive human-in-the-loop decision-making process in which an experimenter learns about system performance and limitations through interactions with a robot in the form of constructed experiments. This can be challenging because of system complexity, the need to operate in unstructured environments, and the competing objectives of maximizing information gain while simultaneously minimizing experimental costs. Based on the successes in other domains, we propose the use of a Decision Support System (DSS) to amplify the human's decision-making abilities, overcome their inherent shortcomings, and enable principled decision-making in field experiments. In this work, we propose common terminology and a six-stage taxonomy of DSSs specifically for adaptive experimental design of more informative tests and reduced experimental costs. We construct and present our taxonomy using examples and trends from DSS literature, including works involving artificial intelligence and Intelligent DSSs. Finally, we identify critical technical gaps and opportunities for future research to direct the scientific community in the pursuit of next-generation DSSs for experimental design.
* 10 pages, 3 figures, presented at the AI-HRI Symposium at AAAI Fall
Symposium Series (FSS) 2022
Robotic exploration of unknown environments is fundamentally a problem of decision making under uncertainty where the robot must account for uncertainty in sensor measurements, localization, action execution, as well as many other factors. For large-scale exploration applications, autonomous systems must overcome the challenges of sequentially deciding which areas of the environment are valuable to explore while safely evaluating the risks associated with obstacles and hazardous terrain. In this work, we propose a risk-aware meta-level decision making framework to balance the tradeoffs associated with local and global exploration. Meta-level decision making builds upon classical hierarchical coverage planners by switching between local and global policies with the overall objective of selecting the policy that is most likely to maximize reward in a stochastic environment. We use information about the environment history, traversability risk, and kinodynamic constraints to reason about the probability of successful policy execution to switch between local and global policies. We have validated our solution in both simulation and on a variety of large-scale real world hardware tests. Our results show that by balancing local and global exploration we are able to significantly explore large-scale environments more efficiently.