Graduation Year

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Computer Science and Engineering

Major Professor

Kimon P. Valavanis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Les A. Piegl, Ph.D.

Keywords

Helicopter control, Non-linear model-predictive control, Neural network, Autorotative flight, Safety

Abstract

Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are considered the stepping stone for the integration of civil unmanned vehicles in the National Airspace System (NAS) because of their low cost and risk. Such systems are aimed at a variety of applications including search and rescue, surveillance, communications, traffic monitoring and inspection of buildings, power lines and bridges. Amidst these systems, small helicopters play an important role because of their capability to hold a position, to maneuver in tight spaces and to take off and land from virtually anywhere. Nevertheless civil adoption of such systems is minimal, mostly because of regulatory problems that in turn are due to safety concerns. This dissertation examines the risk to safety imposed by UAS in general and small helicopters in particular, focusing on accidents resulting in a ground impact. To improve the performance of small helicopters in this area, the use of autonomous autorotation is proposed. This research goes beyond previous work in the area of autonomous autorotation by developing an on-line, model-based, real-time controller that is capable of handling constraints and different cost functions. The approach selected is based on a non-linear model-predictive controller, that is augmented by a neural network to improve the speed of the non-linear optimization. The immediate benefit of this controller is that a class of failures that would otherwise result in an uncontrolled crash and possible injuries or fatalities can now be accommodated. Furthermore besides simply landing the helicopter, the controller is also capable of minimizing the risk of serious injury to people in the area. This is accomplished by minimizing the kinetic energy during the last phase of the descent. The presented research is designed to benefit the entire UAS community as well as the public, by allowing for safer UAS operations, which in turn also allow faster and less expensive integration of UAS in the NAS.

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