Neither fast nor slow: how to fly through narrow tunnels

Published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 2022

Recommended citation: L. Wang, H. Xu, Y. Zhang and S. Shen. Neither fast nor slow: how to fly through narrow tunnels. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, February 2022. To appear.

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Nowadays, multirotors are playing important roles in abundant types of missions. During these missions, entering confined and narrow tunnels that are barely accessible to humans is desirable yet extremely challenging for multirotors. The restricted space and significant ego airflow disturbances induce control issues at both fast and slow flight speeds, meanwhile bringing about problems in state estimation and perception. Thus, a smooth trajectory at a proper speed is necessary for safe tunnel flights. To address these challenges, in this letter, a complete autonomous aerial system that can fly smoothly through tunnels with dimensions narrow to 0.6 m is presented. The system contains a motion planner that generates smooth mini-jerk trajectories along the tunnel center lines, which are extracted according to the map and Euclidean Distance Field (EDF), and its practical speed range is obtained through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and flight data analyses. Extensive flight experiments on the quadrotor are conducted inside multiple narrow tunnels to validate the planning framework as well as the robustness of the whole system.