Mission-Directed Path Planning for Planetary Rover Exploration

Paul Tompkins
doctoral dissertation, tech. report CMU-RI-TR-05-20, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, May, 2005

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Robotic rovers uniquely benefit planetary exploration - they enable regional exploration with the precision of in-situ measurements, a combination impossible from an orbiting spacecraft or fixed lander. Current rover mission planning activities utilize sophisticated software for activity planning and scheduling, but simplified path planning and execution approaches tailored for localized operations to individual targets. Routes are coarsely hand-selected by human operators and executed by the rover's local obstacle detection and avoidance software. Neither route selection nor navigation deeply considers high level mission goals, large scale terrain, time, resources or operational constraints.

This strategy is insufficient for the investigation of multiple, regionally distributed targets in a single command cycle. Path planning tailored for this task must consider the impact of large scale terrain on power, speed and regional access; the effect of route timing on resource availability; the limitations of finite resource capacity and other operational constraints on vehicle range and timing; and the mutual influence between traverses and upstream and downstream stationary activities. Encapsulating this reasoning in an efficient autonomous planner would allow a rover to continue operating rationally despite significant deviations from an initial plan.

This research presents mission-directed path planning that enables an autonomous, strategic reasoning capability for robotic explorers. Planning operates in a space of position, time and energy. Unlike previous hierarchical approaches, it treats these dimensions simultaneously to enable globally-optimal solutions. The approach calls on a new incremental search algorithm designed for planning and re-planning under global constraints, in spaces of higher than two dimensions. Solutions under this method specify routes that avoid terrain obstacles, optimize the collection and use of rechargable energy, satisfy local and global mission constraints, and account for the time and energy of interleaved mission activities. Furthermore, the approach efficiently re-plans in response to updates in vehicle state and world models, and is well suited to online operation aboard a robot.

Simulations exhibit that the new methodology succeeds where conventional path planners would fail. Three planetary-relevant field experiments demonstrate the power of mission-directed path planning in directing actual exploration robots. Offline mission-directed planning sustained a solar-powered rover in a 24-hour sun-synchronous traverse. Online planning and re-planning enabled full navigational autonomy of over 1 kilometer, and supported the execution of science activities distributed over hundreds of meters.

Associated Center(s) / Consortia: Field Robotics Center
Associated Project(s): Life in the Atacama
Number of pages: 192

Text Reference
Paul Tompkins, "Mission-Directed Path Planning for Planetary Rover Exploration," doctoral dissertation, tech. report CMU-RI-TR-05-20, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, May, 2005

BibTeX Reference
   author = "Paul Tompkins",
   title = "Mission-Directed Path Planning for Planetary Rover Exploration",
   booktitle = "",
   school = "Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University",
   month = "May",
   year = "2005",
   number= "CMU-RI-TR-05-20",
   address= "Pittsburgh, PA",