Path Planner for Autonomous Exploration of Underground Mines by Aerial Vehicles

Carlos Rubio-Sierra, Diego Domínguez, Jesús Gonzalo, Alberto Escapa
Sensors 2020 July 30, 20 (15)
This paper presents a path planner solution that makes it possible to autonomously explore underground mines with aerial robots (typically multicopters). In these environments the operations may be limited by many factors like the lack of external navigation signals, the narrow passages and the absence of radio communications. The designed path planner is defined as a simple and highly computationally efficient algorithm that, only relying on a laser imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensor with Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) capability, permits the exploration of a set of single-level mining tunnels. It performs dynamic planning based on exploration vectors, a novel variant of the open sector method with reinforced filtering. The algorithm incorporates global awareness and obstacle avoidance modules. The first one prevents the possibility of getting trapped in a loop, whereas the second one facilitates the navigation along narrow tunnels. The performance of the proposed solution has been tested in different study cases with a Hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulator developed for this purpose. In all situations the path planner logic performed as expected and the used routing was optimal. Furthermore, the path efficiency, measured in terms of traveled distance and used time, was high when compared with an ideal reference case. The result is a very fast, real-time, and static memory capable algorithm, which implemented on the proposed architecture presents a feasible solution for the autonomous exploration of underground mines.

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