The activities of SHERPA are focused on a combined aerial and ground robotic platform suitable to support human operators in accomplishing surveillance and rescuing tasks in unfriendly and often hostile environments, like the alpine rescuing scenario specifically targeted by the project.
The technological platform and the alpine rescuing scenario are the real-world environment that will be used in the project to address a number of research topics about cognition and control.
The following actors compose the basic “SHERPA team”:
- A human rescuer, who is an expert of the specific rescuing mission or surveillance activity (such as a mountain guide or a forest guard).
In the envisaged solution the human transmits wirelessly its position to the robotic platform and communicate with it through handy and easy-to-operate technological devices, which allow a natural interaction and do not distract the rescuer from his demanding operations. Vocal and gestural interactions are envisaged in SHERPA.
- Small scale rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with small cameras and other sensors/receivers and used to support the rescuing and surveillance activity by enlarging the patrolled area with respect to the area potentially “covered” by the single rescuer, both in terms of visual information and monitoring of emergency signals.
Such vehicles are technically designed to operate with a high degree of autonomy and to be supervised by the human in a natural and simple way, like they were “flying eyes” of the rescuer, helping him to comb the neighbouring area. UAVs are specifically conceived to be safe, operable in the vicinity of human beings, and potentially deployable by the human rescuer by hand. As a consequence, they have limited autonomy, payload, and operative radius.
- A ground rover serving as a transportation module for the rescuer equipment, as a hardware station with computational and communication capabilities, and as a recovery and recharging module for the small-scale unmanned aerial vehicles introduced above.
It is technically conceived to operate with a high-degree of autonomy and long endurance, as well as to have a payload calibrated to carry relevant Hardware. It is wirelessly connected to the rescuer, able to follow his movements, and to interact in a natural way.
In order to improve the autonomous capabilities of the robotic platform, a multi-functional robotic arm is also installed on the rover, which will be useful especially in relation to the deployment of the small scale UAVs (both in terms of take-off and landing).
The key elements carried by the rover, constituted by the computational and communication Hardware, by the recovery/rechargeable station of the small scale UAVs and the equipment storage element, are mechanically conceived to be confined in a “SHERPA box” that can be potentially uncoupled from the ground rover and transported in another way, such as by means of the high-payload unmanned aerial vehicles described in the following.
- Long endurance, high-altitude and high-payload aerial vehicles, with complementary features with respect to the small-scale UAVs introduced before, complete the SHERPA team. Within the team, they are used for constructing a 3D map of the rescuing area, as communication hub between the platforms in presence of critical terrain morphologies, for patrolling large areas not necessarily confined in the neighborhood of the rescuer, and, if needed, to carry the “SHERPA box” in places non accessible to the rover.
They fly at a height of around 50-100 m above ground (or trees). Two kinds of complementary technological platforms, already available and operating in the SHERPA research groups, will be used for the scope:
- A fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle available at ETHZ. It is equipped with solar panels and designed for virtually operating ceaselessly. Its long-endurance features, typical of fixed-wing aircraft and here enhanced by the solar panels, but relative small payload, make the vehicle ideal for long patrolling missions in search of beacon and others emergency signals.
It is also ideal for serving as communication hub and approximate (due to inability to hover and potential high-speed especially in windy conditions) 3D map reconstruction.
- A rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle, the Yamaha Rmax, available at LKU.
It is recognized as the world most advanced non-military UAV, with remarkable features in terms of payload and ability to fly in extreme conditions. With respect to the fixed-wing aerial vehicle, the platform is more risky and demanding to operate. Due to these features, its use is envisaged in critical weather conditions for accurate 3D map reconstruction (due to hovering capabilities) and for the “SHERPA-box” aerial transportation in areas non accessible to the rover.
In the latter scenario, the helicopter is also used for aerial deployment of the small-scale UAVs, by thus substituting the rover in all the cases in which ground transportation and deployment is infeasible due to the morphology of the terrain.