Client: Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), US Navy (NAVAIR Lakehurst)
PSI was contracted by NAVAIR to look forward to the future of extremely sparsely manned aircraft carriers (<50 crew) and develop an autonomous system for securing returning aircraft to the deck without sailors in the loop. PSI contracted to TA for mechanical and software support in developing a unique aircraft chocking robot.
TA helped PSI interact with the Navy sponsor to fully specify a test matrix required for the Phase II program demonstration. Additionally a 3D simulation environment was developed to fully understand the scale and tasking required for the tests. From these specifications a unique differential-drive robot was developed with an extensive sensor suite including a laser scanner, 25 sonic rangers, a high dynamic range video camera matched to the outdoor application, a stereo camera system for background clutter elimination, and rotary wheel encoders for short-term navigation odometry. A processing architecture was developed including several microcontrollers for local control flow and a quad-core laptop processor running a Linux real-time operating system. A behavioral control paradigm was chosen to match the dynamic flight deck environment and the aircraft recognition, approach, and docking mission was broken into individual tasks, each with dedicated sensors and primitive behaviors designed for efficient execution. A “Vector Field Histogram” path planning system was developed for optimized path planning and obstacle avoidance. Novel algorithms for navigation and localization based on invariant landmark identification and tracking were implemented using high-value laser scanner data. Two prototype robot systems were developed and demonstrated to program sponsors at NAVAIR.