On-Board Real-Time Trajectory Planning for Fixed Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Extreme Environments

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A team from the University of Bristol have developed a method of operating fixed wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) at long-range and high-altitude over Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala for the purposes of volcanic monitoring and ash-sampling. Conventionally, the mission plans must be carefully designed prior to flight, to cope with altitude gains in excess of 3000 m, reaching 9 km from the ground control station and 4500 m above mean sea level. This means the climb route cannot be modified mid-flight. At these scales, atmospheric conditions change over the course of a flight and so a real-time trajectory planner (RTTP) is desirable, calculating a route on-board the aircraft. This paper presents an RTTP based around a genetic algorithm optimisation running on a Raspberry Pi 3 B+, the first of its kind to be flown on-board a UAV. Four flights are presented, each having calculated a new and valid trajectory on-board, from the ground control station to the summit region of Volcań de Fuego. The RTTP flights are shown to have approximately equivalent efficiency characteristics to conventionally planned missions. This technology is promising for the future of long-range UAV operations and further development is likely to see significant energy and efficiency savings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4085
Number of pages21
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2019


  • environmental monitoring
  • UAV navigation
  • UAV path planning


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