A flexible Hardware-in-the-loop architecture for UAVs
P. Lepej, A. Santamaria-Navarro and J. SolĂ 
The International Conference on Unmannead Aircraft Systems, pp. 1751-1756, Miami, USA, 2017

As robotic technology matures, fully autonomous robots become a realistic possibility, but demand very complex solutions to be rapidly engineered. In order to be able to quickly set up a working autonomous system, and to reduce the gap between simulated and real experiments, we propose a modular, upgradeable and flexible hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) architecture, which hybridizes the simulated and real settings. We take as use case the autonomous exploration of dense forests with UAVs, with the aim of creating useful maps for forest inspection, cataloging, or to compute other metrics such as total wood volume. As the first step in the development of the full system, in this paper we implement a fraction of this architecture, comprising assisted localization, and automatic methods for mapping, planning and motion execution. Specifically we are able to simulate the use of a 3D LIDAR endowed below an actual UAV autonomously navigating among simulated obstacles, thus the platform safety is not compromised. The full system is modular and takes profit of pieces either publicly available or easily programmed. We highlight the flexibility of the proposed HIL architecture to rapidly configure different experimental setups with a UAV in challenging terrain. Moreover, it can be extended to other robotic fields without further design. The HIL system uses the multi-platform ROS capabilities and only needs a motion capture system as external extra hardware, which is becoming standard equipment in all research labs dealing with mobile robots.