UAS have proven to be quite useful for low-altitude observations of atmospheric and terrestrial properties, however, the difficulties associated with areas containing obstacles or rugged terrain has greatly restricted the operational area to relatively level locations with limited trees, towers or other obstacles that could intersect the intended flight path. Although tedious manual piloting of multi-rotor aircraft can still allow for flights in these areas as modern multi-rotor platforms generally contain proximity sensors, very little work has been done to accommodate fixed-wing aircraft. Many application areas of UAS demand the use of a vehicle able to cover a larger sampling area, such as trace gas emission observation over volcanoes, forest biofuel calculation, invasive plant specie identification, rock and mudslide mitigation, snowpack analysis and missions requiring high-resolution photogrammetry.
This work proposes to employ state-of-the art sensors, control algorithms, and on-board processing to enable an entirely new regime of automated in situ sensing for UAS. Specifically, although extensible to multi-rotor UAS, a subsystem will be created that allows for active navigation around obstacles and rugged terrain by fixed-wing UAS. It will be designed in a modular manner to allow for inclusion on a number of different platforms, but will be specifically targeted to be deployed on the mission-proven S2 UAS. The S2 is a product of previous NASA SBIR successes, and will be flown during Phase II to demonstrate the technology, with the resulting product serving as the first step toward commercialization.
BST plans on incorporating this technology directly into our commercial offerings, starting first with the S2 UAS. This platform has already been tested in a number of NASA campaigns, and it was during such a campaign performing sampling above volcanic vents in Costa Rica that the need for a terrain-contouring system was identified. Other applications include higher resolution soil moisture measurements using BST's own sensor, to surface flux calculations above the arctic tundra.
The proposed system can be utilized to provide reliable low-altitude flights for infrastructure inspection and would be particularly useful for leak detection. Additionally, in BST's primary application area of survey and geographic information systems (GIS) space, it would allow for reliable flights above rugged terrain, which is required for many areas of mountain mapping, including rock slide mitigation and avalanche prediction.