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Title: Robust vision based slope estimation and rocks detection for autonomous space landers
Author: Feetham, Luke
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 9400
Awarding Body: Cranfield University
Current Institution: Cranfield University
Date of Award: 2017
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As future robotic surface exploration missions to other planets, moons and asteroids become more ambitious in their science goals, there is a rapidly growing need to significantly enhance the capabilities of entry, descent and landing technology such that landings can be carried out with pin-point accuracy at previously inaccessible sites of high scientific value. As a consequence of the extreme uncertainty in touch-down locations of current missions and the absence of any effective hazard detection and avoidance capabilities, mission designers must exercise extreme caution when selecting candidate landing sites. The entire landing uncertainty footprint must be placed completely within a region of relatively flat and hazard free terrain in order to minimise the risk of mission ending damage to the spacecraft at touchdown. Consequently, vast numbers of scientifically rich landing sites must be rejected in favour of safer alternatives that may not offer the same level of scientific opportunity. The majority of truly scientifically interesting locations on planetary surfaces are rarely found in such hazard free and easily accessible locations, and so goals have been set for a number of advanced capabilities of future entry, descent and landing technology. Key amongst these is the ability to reliably detect and safely avoid all mission critical surface hazards in the area surrounding a pre-selected landing location. This thesis investigates techniques for the use of a single camera system as the primary sensor in the preliminary development of a hazard detection system that is capable of supporting pin-point landing operations for next generation robotic planetary landing craft. The requirements for such a system have been stated as the ability to detect slopes greater than 5 degrees and surface objects greater than 30cm in diameter. The primary contribution in this thesis, aimed at achieving these goals, is the development of a feature-based,self-initialising, fully adaptive structure from motion (SFM) algorithm based on a robust square-root unscented Kalman filtering framework and the fusion of the resulting SFM scene structure estimates with a sophisticated shape from shading (SFS) algorithm that has the potential to produce very dense and highly accurate digital elevation models (DEMs) that possess sufficient resolution to achieve the sensing accuracy required by next generation landers. Such a system is capable of adapting to potential changes in the external noise environment that may result from intermittent and varying rocket motor thrust and/or sudden turbulence during descent, which may translate to variations in the vibrations experienced by the platform and introduce varying levels of motion blur that will affect the accuracy of image feature tracking algorithms. Accurate scene structure estimates have been obtained using this system from both real and synthetic descent imagery, allowing for the production of accurate DEMs. While some further work would be required in order to produce DEMs that possess the resolution and accuracy needed to determine slopes and the presence of small objects such as rocks at the levels of accuracy required, this thesis presents a very strong foundation upon which to build and goes a long way towards developing a highly robust and accurate solution.
Supervisor: Aouf, Nabil Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available