Projects for Master Thesis - Open for academic period 2021-2022.
Multi-modal Localization And Mapping in Perceptually-degraded Environments Supervisors: Kostas Alexis |Keywords: SLAM, GPS-denied, Visually-degraded Available This thesis aims to develop a new class of Simultaneous Localization And Mapping (SLAM) algorithms that exploit the fusion of diverse modalities to enable the autonomous navigation inside GPS-denied and perceptually-degraded environments. In particular, the goal of fusion of LiDAR, visible-light and thermal cameras, as well as inertial sensors is considered. We envision the development of a factor-graph based optimization problem for integrating the diverse modalities, alongside appropriately designed multi-modal data association front-ends. The designed method will be tested onboard a flying robot integrating a both a 3D LiDAR and visible light cameras synchronized with a high quality Inertial Measurement Unit. Field experiments will be conducted in underground environments presenting diverse cases of degradation including geometric self-similarity, darkness and broadly lack of visual features.
Reinforcement Learning for Autonomous Exploration of Cluttered Environments using Collision-resilient Aerial Robots Supervisors: Kostas Alexis |Keywords: Reinforcement Learning, Autonomy Available This thesis aims to develop a reinforcement learning approach applicable to continuous state and action spaces and partially observed Markov decision processes, wherein the reward for the agent is contingent upon the agent’s efficient exploration of the environment. The method should be able to utilize a sliding window of LiDAR (and/or camera) observations in order to identify reference paths that a) maximize the anticipated exploration reward, while b) minimizing the likelihood of a collision and necessarily ensuring that if a collision is bound to happen then the kinetic energy at contact-time is such that the collision-tolerant robot can remain safe. To enable robust performance in very long-term and large-scale deployments we seek to develop a method that does not assume a consistent online reconstructed 3D map of the environment but rather aim to encode the ability to “develop map memory” through recurrent networks.
Data-driven Model Predictive Control for Collision-tolerant Aerial Robots Supervisors: Kostas Alexis |Keywords: Aerial Robots, Control, Learning, Navigation Available This thesis aims to develop a novel controller for collision-tolerant aerial robot capable of affording impacts with the environment up to a certain speed. The envisioned control policy should bring together the strengths of Model Predictive Control and modern deep neural networks towards delivering a behavior that ensures the safety of the robot by avoiding any collision with the environment or ensuring that an impact will only happen with limited kinetic energy. To acquire data for the map of the environment, a 3D LiDAR will be used by the aerial robotic system delivering a rich depth representation of the robot’s surroundings. The developed solution will be evaluated both in simulation but also onboard a collision-tolerant aerial robot. The vision of this work is to deliver a control policy that exploits collision tolerance and thus allows for more agile and high-speed navigation inside highly confined and complex environments.
Fast Frontier Detection for High-speed Exploration using Aerial Robots Supervisors: Kostas Alexis | Keywords: Space & Subterranean Robots, Mechatronics, Control Available This thesis aims to research new methods on fast and computationally efficient detection of the mapped space in order to facilitate high-speed autonomous exploration using agile aerial robots. In particular, the goal is to support Micro Aerial Vehicles in missions of autonomous exploration and mapping in environments for which no prior knowledge is available. Exploiting an online occupancy map representation of the environment the task is to first detect the frontiers of the explored space and then identify a dynamics-aware collision-free path towards that point in the robot’s configuration space. We envision update rates that are fast enough for a robot to be able to fly with speeds as high as 5m/s, which in turn implies that the new path must be computed in very limited time by relying solely on the onboard computational resources.
Mars Regolith Digger: Robotic system to autonomously excavate on Mars Supervisors: Kostas Alexis | Keywords: Space & Subterranean Robots, Mechatronics, Control Available In this work we envision the conceptual design, detailed study and miniaturized prototype realization of a robotic system capable of autonomous excavation of Mars regolith ground. Such a robotic system is to be designed to investigate new means for the future of autonomous preparation of a human base on Mars. Regolith will be used to develop the needed structural materials and thus its robotized excavation is essential. In this work the main focus is on the mechatronic design and control of this Mars Regolith Digger concept, while further study on its perception solution is also possible if time allows.
Hopping-and-Roving Robots for Martian Lava Tube Exploration Supervisors: Kostas Alexis | Keywords: Space & Subterranean Robots, Mechatronics, Control Available In this thesis, the aim is to develop a new class of roving and jumping subterranean robotic explorers tailored to the needs and challenges of Martian Lava Tubes. The goal is to offer simultaneously: a) endurance exceeding 2h at a single charge and a range exceeding 10km, b) traversability of challenging terrain, and c) a small size and weight (<10kg). The latter is particularly important as weight highly affects the cost of the mission, while the size must be small enough for skylight access and teamed operation eliminates the possibility of a single-point-of-failure. To achieve such challenging design specifications, we envision a robotic unit involving a hopping-and-roving robot. This robot will rely on large wheels with high-torque motors attached onto a simple leg mechanism to help in traversing challenging terrain, and implement a jumping mechanism. Control of the wheel spin and the leg configuration will also facilitate attitude control during the flight-phase of each jump. Exploiting the reduced effects of gravity of Mars, approximately 38% that of Earth, the system can benefit from its very small weight to seamlessly overcome challenging obstacles through long jumps – an approach even more relevant due to the large size of lava tubes on Mars. Within the framework of the thesis we seek to develop the conceptual design and a prototype realization of such a hopping-and-roving robot.
Through-the-ground Communications for Subterranean Robots Supervisors: Kostas Alexis | Keywords: Subterranean Robots, Communications Available This thesis aims to design and prototype a solution for through-the-ground communications for robotic systems deployed to explore subterranean environments such as cave networks and underground mines. Such underground environments can be several meters to hundreds of meters below ground level thus rendering communications to an operating autonomous from extremely challenging to impossible. Traditional through-the-ground communications are typically bulky and heavy as they rely on extremely long antennas due to the necessary long wavelengths involved. At the same time such communications come with additional limitations (e.g., in terms of the possible bandwidth). In this work we seek to investigate the design space that would allow to realize a reasonably lightweight communications solution enabling through-the-ground communications with sufficient bandwidth to exchange minimalistic messages relating to a) the current robot pose, b) possible detections of objects of interest, and c) issuing of emergency commands to stop the robot or request it to return to home. Prototype realization of the envisioned solution is an essential component of this work, including the modules onboard robotic systems and the module on the ground, alongside their possibly different antennas.
Soft Deep Sea Robotic Explorer Supervisors: Kostas Alexis | Keywords: Underwater robots, Soft robotics, Control Available In this thesis, the goal is to develop the design and prototype realization of a soft robotic system capable of operating in deep sea waters to perform scientific exploration and sampling missions. The design aims to address two challenges, namely a) what material selection and/or fabrication can allow the system to sustain the pressure at significant depths, and b) the actuation mechanism for throttling and steering the robot. As soft materials are to be used, this opens the way for small size robots that exploit such mechanical properties in order to sustain the high pressure without resorting to heavy and rather bulky designs. To draw inspiration for the design you are advised to look at species that naturally live in such deep sea environments. The research will naturally need to combine skills and interest in mechatronic design, understanding of material properties, modeling and control.
Image from sciencenews.org. Paper: Li, G., Chen, X., Zhou, F., Liang, Y., Xiao, Y., Cao, X., Zhang, Z., Zhang, M., Wu, B., Yin, S. and Xu, Y., 2021. Self-powered soft robot in the Mariana Trench. Nature, 591(7848), pp.66-71. (not work of our lab)
Previous Academic Period
Flight Control and Motion Planning for a Class of VTOL UAVs Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Assigned This thesis aims to develop optimized flight control and motion planning algorithms to enable the robust and high performance flight of a class of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) capable of convertible flight, namely from rotorcraft mode to fixed-wing mode. The research will emphasize on robust flight control especially against wind disturbances, alongside the generation of optimized trajectories that account for estimates of the wind field across the direction of motion. The method will be implemented on the PX4 open-source autopilot software and deployed onboard a prototype VTOL UAV. Details here.
Resilient Flight Control for a Collision-tolerant Aerial Robot Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Assigned This thesis aims to develop a novel control strategy tailored to a Resilient Micro Flyer implementing a collision-tolerant frame. The method should account and exploit the collision tolerance of not only to passively mitigate the risks of a collision but also to a) actively modify the control commands when a collision-event is detected, and b) to intentionally decide if the robot can navigate an environment better by maintaining smooth contact with a surrounding surface. Alongside the controller design, the implementation of a collision detection algorithm relying on the onboard Inertial Measurement Unit data is also necessary.
Blazing Fast Exploration Path Planning for Subterranean Flying Robots Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Assigned This project aims to develop a path planning strategy for autonomous aerial robots in order to explore large-scale underground environments, such as mines and cave networks, at rapid speeds. Building on top of a set of previously developed planning methods of our team, the goal is to address two core limitations relating to the environment representation and the information gain formulation used to derive optimized exploration paths and thus allow to efficiently calculate dynamic and agile trajectories allowing high-speed exploration. The latter is a necessary condition if battery- and broadly resource-constrained robots are to be able to efficiently explore the often km-long underground environments. Check examples of our previous work.
Collision Resilient Navigation for Aerial Robots in Confined Environments Supervisors: Kostas Alexis, Christos Papachristos Assigned This research aims to enhance the navigation abilities of aerial robots in confined/narrow environments by enabling them to stably establish contact with surfaces of their environment. More specifically, a Micro Aerial Vehicle will be enhanced with specialized mechanisms for physical interaction (extensions) and a software framework for control in confined spaces by exploiting contact. Force feedback at the end effectors will facilitate stable and sustainable physical interaction. This research direction plans to radically change how flying robots navigate through narrow environments such as ore-passes or manholes.
Reactive Collision Avoidance for Aerial Robots Navigating in Underground Environments Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Assigned This research aims to investigate a last-resort collision-avoidance mechanism that is implemented onboard an aerial robot aiming to navigate complex underground settings. The method should employ different sensing modalities in order to provide robustness and satisfactory performance even in visually-degraded conditions. In particular, the combination of visible camera data and LiDAR ranging is considered as a starting point. Ideally, the designed solution should not assume that a reliable pose and map estimate is available and enable reactive avoidance even in the most degenerate cases.
On the role of Levy Flights towards Efficient Memoryless Robotic Search Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Available Autonomous robots are commonly tasked with the problem of area exploration and search for certain targets or artifacts of interest to be tracked. Traditionally, the problem formulation considered is that of complete search and thus - ideally - identification of all targets of interest. An important problem however which is not often addressed is that of time-efficient memoryless search under sparse rewards that may be worth visited any number of items. In this work we want to address the largely understudied problem of optimizing the "time-of-arrival" or "time-of-detection" to robotically search for sparsely distributed rewards (detect targets of interest) within large-scale environments and subject to memoryless exploration.
Simulation Environment for Subterranean Robotics Supervisors: Kostas Alexis, Christos Papachristos Available This project aims to develop a comprehensive simulation environment for testing ground and flying robots for autonomous navigation in subterranean environments. It will be based on Gazebo and ideally should also allow for some type of Hardware-In-the-Loop functionality. It will develop on top of the Gazebo-based simulator of subterranean environments provided by DARPA.
Understanding the Vision System of Underground Species Supervisors: Kostas Alexis Available In this project we question what is special and specific to the vision system of specials (from animals to insects) living underground. Good examples include the wolf spider or beavers. The emphasis is on literature study on the specific domain and derivation of conclusions on how certain principles may apply to robotic vision systems both in the sense of hardware and algorithms. It corresponds to a project that will lay the ground for many subsequent investigations to follow.
Own ideas - high risk projects!
Do you have your own idea about a robotics project? Are you willing to discuss a high-risk project with the understanding that things might not always work? Contact me and schedule a meeting!