Ever since I played with Lego as a little child, I’ve been fascinated with automation, robotics, and teaching machines to be useful in general. Nowadays, I would summarize my passion as the science of efficient machine-comprehensible problem formulation, which I try to apply to estimation and control problems on autonomous drones.
PhD in Robotics, 2017 - 2021
Robotics & Perception Group
MSc in Mechanical Engineering, 2017
BSc in Mechanical Engineering, 2015
Quadrotors are amongst the most agile flying robots. However, planning time-optimal trajectories at the actuation limit through multiple waypoints remains an open problem. This is crucial for applications such as inspection, delivery, search and rescue, and drone racing. Early works used polynomial trajectory formulations, which do not exploit the full actuator potential due to their inherent smoothness. Recent works resorted to numerical optimization, but require waypoints to be allocated as costs or constraints at specific discrete times. However, this time- allocation is a priori unknown and renders previous works incapable of producing truly time-optimal trajectories. To generate truly time-optimal trajectories, we propose a solution to the time allocation problem while exploiting the full quadrotor’s actuator potential. We achieve this by introducing a formulation of progress along the trajectory, which enables the simultaneous optimization of the time- allocation and the trajectory itself. We compare our method against related approaches and validate it in real- world flights in one of the world’s largest motion-capture systems, where we outperform human expert drone pilots in a drone-racing task.
Autonomous micro aerial vehicles still struggle with fast and agile maneuvers, dynamic environments, imperfect sensing, and state estimation drift. Autonomous drone racing brings these challenges to the fore. Human pilots can fly a previously unseen track after a handful of practice runs. In contrast, state-of-the-art autonomous navigation algorithms require either a precise metric map of the environment or a large amount of training data collected in the track of interest. To bridge this gap, we propose an approach that can fly a new track in a previously unseen environment without a precise map or expensive data collection. Our approach represents the global track layout with coarse gate locations, which can be easily estimated from a single demonstration flight. At test time, a convolutional network predicts the poses of the closest gates along with their uncertainty. These predictions are incorporated by an extended Kalman filter to maintain optimal maximum-aposteriori estimates of gate locations. This allows the framework to cope with misleading high-variance estimates that could stem from poor observability or lack of visible gates. Given the estimated gate poses, we use model predictive control to quickly and accurately navigate through the track. We conduct extensive experiments in the physical world, demonstrating agile and robust flight through complex and diverse previouslyunseen race tracks. The presented approach was used to win the IROS 2018 Autonomous Drone Race Competition, outracing the second-placing team by a factor of two.
We present the first perception-aware model predictive control framework for quadrotors that unifies control and planning with respect to action and perception objectives. Our framework leverages numerical optimization to compute trajectories that satisfy the system dynamics and require control inputs within the limits of the platform. Simultaneously, it optimizes perception objectives for robust and reliable sensing by maximizing the visibility of a point of interest and minimizing its velocity in the image plane. Considering both perception and action objectives for motion planning and control is challenging due to the possible conflicts arising from their respective requirements. For example, for a quadrotor to track a reference trajectory, it needs to rotate to align its thrust with the direction of the desired acceleration. However, the perception objective might require to minimize such rotation to maximize the visibility of a point of interest. A model-based optimization framework, able to consider both perception and action objectives and couple them through the system dynamics, is therefore necessary. Our perception-aware model predictive control framework works in a receding-horizon fashion by iteratively solving a non-linear optimization problem. It is capable of running in real-time, fully onboard our lightweight, small-scale quadrotor using a low-power ARM computer, together with a visual-inertial odometry pipeline. We validate our approach in experiments demonstrating (I) the conflict between perception and action objectives, and (II) improved behavior in extremely challenging lighting conditions.