Solar Based Navigation for Robotic Explorers

Kimberly Shillcutt
doctoral dissertation, tech. report CMU-RI-TR-00-25, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, October, 2000

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This thesis introduces the application of solar position and shadowing information to robotic exploration. Power is a critical resource for robots with remote, long-term missions, so this research focuses on the power generation capabilities of robotic explorers during navigational tasks, in addition to power consumption. Solar power is primarily considered, with the possibility of wind power also contemplated. Information about the environment, including the solar ephemeris, terrain features, time of day, and surface location, is incorporated into a planning structure, allowing robots to accurately predict shadowing and thus potential costs and gains during navigational tasks. By evaluating its potential to generate and expend power, a robot can extend its lifetime and accomplishments. The primary tasks studied are coverage patterns, with a variety of plans developed for this research. The use of sun, terrain and temporal information also enables new capabilities of identifying and following sun-synchronous and sun-seeking paths.

Digital elevation maps are combined with an ephemeris algorithm to calculate the altitude and azimuth of the sun from surface locations, and to identify and map shadows. Solar navigation path simulators use this information to perform searches through two-dimensional space, while considering temporal changes. Step by step simulations of coverage patterns also incorporate time in addition to location. Evaluations of solar and wind power generation, power consumption, area coverage, area overlap, and time are generated for sets of coverage patterns, with on-board environmental information linked to the simulations. This research is implemented on the Nomad robot for the Robotic Antarctic Meteorite Search. Simulators have been developed for coverage pattern tests, as well as for sun-synchronous and sun-seeking path searches. Results of field work and simulations are reported and analyzed, with demonstrated improvements in efficiency, productivity and lifetime of robotic explorers, along with new solar navigation abilities.

mobile robots, navigation, solar power

Associated Center(s) / Consortia: Field Robotics Center

Text Reference
Kimberly Shillcutt, "Solar Based Navigation for Robotic Explorers," doctoral dissertation, tech. report CMU-RI-TR-00-25, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, October, 2000

BibTeX Reference
   author = "Kimberly Shillcutt",
   title = "Solar Based Navigation for Robotic Explorers",
   booktitle = "",
   school = "Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University",
   month = "October",
   year = "2000",
   number= "CMU-RI-TR-00-25",
   address= "Pittsburgh, PA",