Robust Reinforcement Learning Algorithm for Vision-based Ship Landing of UAVs

Vishnu Saj, Bochan Lee, Dileep Kalathil, Moble Benedict

This paper addresses the problem of developing an algorithm for autonomous ship landing of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), using only a monocular camera in the UAV for tracking and localization. Ship landing is a challenging task due to the small landing space, six degrees of freedom ship deck motion, limited visual references for localization, and adversarial environmental conditions such as wind gusts. We first develop a computer vision algorithm which estimates the relative position of the UAV with respect to a horizon reference bar on the landing platform using the image stream from a monocular vision camera on the UAV. Our approach is motivated by the actual ship landing procedure followed by the Navy helicopter pilots in tracking the horizon reference bar as a visual cue. We then develop a robust reinforcement learning (RL) algorithm for controlling the UAV towards the landing platform even in the presence of adversarial environmental conditions such as wind gusts. We demonstrate the superior performance of our algorithm compared to a benchmark nonlinear PID control approach, both in the simulation experiments using the Gazebo environment and in the real-world setting using a Parrot ANAFI quad-rotor and sub-scale ship platform undergoing 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) deck motion.

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