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Aerial robotics

Remote Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Design and Autonomous control

The Robotics Research Group has currently two PhD researchers working on aerial robotics (RPAS):

  • Bart Theys focuses on advanced RPAS design by investigating propulsion efficiency and deriving a new design methodology for future prototypes. In addition, he is developing a autonomous VTOL RPAS for package delivery in the context of the CargoCopter project.

    The CargoCopter project concerns design, control and automatic landing of unmanned aerial vehicles capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL UAVs). Speed, endurance and payload capacity are optimized for designs with a combination of wings and propellers for lift and thrust generation. In the summer of 2014, the ‘VertiKUL’, a first proof of concept, proved to have double speed and efficiency compared to conventional designs. From 2015, the design optimization is extended to include larger wind robustness while the control is extended to greater reliability and autonomy. Aiming at further commercialization, a concept demonstration of fully automated aerial transportation concludes this project in 2017.

  • Jon Verbeke focuses on the development of an innovative rotary platform, specifically designed for inspection of fruit orchards using constraint robust navigation with iTaSC as a user. The goal is to fly an RPA autonomously through the orchard, in between the trees, and image the fruit with sideward looking cameras. Post-flight, these images are processed to estimate the harvest yield.
    The research has three main phases. In the first phase (2011-2013) the innovative rotary platform (multicopter) was conceived. It consists of combing large propellers for lift propulsion with small propellers for control. This allows the designer to step away from symmetrical conventional designs and simultaneously achieve longer flight endurance. A rectangularly shaped multicopter most optimally uses the limited space of the narrow corridor between tree rows. A prototype was build and succesfully flown to support this. It has a flight time 30% longer than comparable multicopter using only standard off-the-shelf components. The second phase (2014-2016) consists in the development of the autonomous control using the iTaSC framework. This is currently under development. The third and final phase (2016-2017) will bring the unique design together with the autonomous control and the payload (fruit image processing). The latter is developed by the KU Leuven research group EAVISE.



RPAS Autonomous manipulation

A recently finished project, sponsored by FWO (Fund for Scientific Research- Flanders) project G04041N, was "Autonomous manipulation using a flying robot" .

The goal of the project was

  • performing manipulation tasks using an autonomous quadrotor,
  • applying the sensor-based framework for task specification and control, developed in our research group, to the autonomous quadrotor and
  • robust control of the quadrotor during manipulation task execution.

The two main researchers involved were Steven Bellens and Dominick (Nick) Vanhienen:

  • Steven Bellens provided generic functions for manipulation tasks, using the quadrotor as-is and as an iTaSC user and demonstrated this with a quadrotor wiping a table clean.
  • Dominick Vanthienen advanced iTaSC (General software framework compliant with 5C’s and with maximal reusability) in able to implement the acceleration-resolved control scheme and to formulate the quadrotor problem in this general framework.

Several research platforms are used: Pelican quadrotor from AscTec GmbHDraganflyer XProParrot AR.Drone, DJI Flamewheel and custom in-house developed RPAS such as VertiKUL.



Menno Hochstenbach, Cyriel Notteboom, Bart Theys and Joris De Schutter, “Design and control of an unmanned aerial vehicle for autonomous parcel delivery with transition from vertical take-off to forward flight”. International Journal of Micro Aerial Vehicles & Proceedings of the International Micro Air Vehicle Conference and Competition 2015 (best paper award)

Verbandt, Maarten, Bart Theys, and Joris De Schutter. "Robust marker-tracking system for vision-based autonomous landing of VTOL UAVs."Proceedings of the International Micro Air Vehicle Conference and Competition 2014. 2014.

Theys, Bart, et al. "Wind tunnel testing of a VTOL MAV propeller in tilted operating mode." Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS), 2014 International Conference on. IEEE, 2014.

Verbeke, Jon, et al. "The design and construction of a high endurance hexacopter suited for narrow corridors*." Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS), 2014 International Conference on. IEEE, 2014.

Bellens, Steven, Joris De Schutter, and Herman Bruyninckx. "A hybrid pose/wrench control framework for quadrotor helicopters." Robotics and Automation (ICRA), 2012 IEEE International Conference on. IEEE, 2012.