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A Hierarchical Tracking Strategy for Vision-Based Applications On-Board UAVs

Journal of Intelligent and Robotics Systems

ISSN: 0921-0296 (print version) ISSN: 1573-0409 (electronic version)

Paper reference: 
DOI: 10.1007/s10846-013-9814-x
Publication Date: 
December 2013,

In this paper, we apply a hierarchical tracking strategy of planar objects (or that can be assumed to be planar) that is based on direct methods for vision-based applications on-board UAVs. The use of this tracking strategy allows to achieve the tasks at real-time frame rates and to overcome problems posed by the challenging conditions of the tasks: e.g. constant vibrations, fast 3D changes, or limited capacity on-board. The vast majority of approaches make use of feature-based methods to track objects. Nonetheless, in this paper we show that although some of these feature-based solutions are faster, direct methods can be more robust under fast 3D motions (fast changes in position), some changes in appearance, constant vibrations (without requiring any specific hardware or software for video stabilization), and situations in which part of the object to track is outside of the field of view of the camera. The performance of the proposed tracking strategy on-board UAVs is evaluated with images from real-flight tests using manually-generated ground truth information, accurate position estimation using a Vicon system, and also with simulated data from a simulation environment. Results show that the hierarchical tracking strategy performs better than well-known feature-based algorithms and well-known configurations of direct methods, and that its performance is robust enough for vision-in-the-loop tasks, e.g. for vision-based landing tasks.