Autonomous Mission Planning, Navigation and Geological Feature Recognition using UAVs (Drones)

Project dates: 22/07/2019 -

Why does it matter?

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Search and Rescue (SAR), powerlines, air quality and other applications is increasing.  Their use has also been considered for planetary exploration (e.g., Mars, Titan). UAVs can survey and find geological features at a higher resolution than orbiters and can cover wider areas than rovers. Planetary exploration is however a challenging problem for UAVs influenced by different levels of uncertainty in localization and the environment itself.

The level of autonomy on UAVs, supported by mathematical tools, models and formulations that help the UAV to deal with critical aspects of the mission continues to grow for Earth applications. Future planetary exploration missions will require advanced navigation tools that support more autonomous UAV mission planning, navigation and detection systems to accelerate the understanding, monitoring and preservation of a wide range of environments including other planets.


This research is aimed at developing a framework for mission planning and geological surface features detection using UAV in GPS-denied environments such as Mars. It involves the development and flight-testing of UAV prototypes capable of navigating in unknown GPS-denied environments in the search of geological features using on-board cameras.

The research covers some design aspects of UAVs needed for planetary exploration but mainly focuses on high-level mission planning and navigation architecture for planetary exploration based on Partially Observable Markov Decision Process (POMDP).

Real World Impact

A system that combines autonomous mission planning for exploration and surface features detection will exploit the capability of UAVs to survey and/or protect planetary surfaces with potential applications in Farming, Forest preservation, search and rescue and mining to mention some scenarios.

UAVs with mission planning autonomous capabilities will increase the planetary exploration tools, fostering the understanding of our planet, solar system and the universe.

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