Minimum-energy flight paths for UAVs using mesoscale wind forecasts and approximate dynamic programming
Royset, Johannes O.
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Fuel or battery consumption of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be improved by utilizing or avoiding air currents. This thesis adopts a network modeling approach to formulate the problem of finding minimum energy flight paths. The relevant airspace is divided into small regions using a grid of nodes, inter-connected by arcs. A function, representing energy cost, is defined on every arc in terms of the solution of a constrained nonlinear program for the optimal local airspeed to fly in a given wind field. Then, shortest-path models are implemented on the network to find the optimal paths from an origin to a destination. Five models are studied and they correspond to cases of pre-planning of flight routes and dynamic updating of routes during the course of the flight. These models use three-dimensional grids of forecasted wind currents, produced by the Naval Research Laboratory's Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) with horizontal resolution of 1 km. One of the shortest-path models, a stochastic-dynamic model, assumes real-time measurement capabilities of the wind velocity in the vicinity of the UAV, through its GPS-INS system, and provides updated waypoints to follow after every measurement. For each model, the energy costs of the shortest-path solutions for 1000 randomized missions over a Nevada test site are simulated and compared to the energy costs of straight-line paths. For a 100 kg UAV, the dynamic model produces an average reduction of 15.1% in the energy consumption along 40 km long round trips, and an average reduction of 30.1% under windy conditions with average wind speeds larger than 15 m/s. A stochastic-dynamic model for maximum duration, solved using a heuristic algorithm, achieves an average increase of 32.2% in the flight duration for a 100 kg UAV.
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