The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences
Publications Copernicus
Articles | Volume XLVIII-2-2024
11 Jun 2024
 | 11 Jun 2024

Autonomous robotic drone system for mapping forest interiors

Väinö Karjalainen, Niko Koivumäki, Teemu Hakala, Anand George, Jesse Muhojoki, Eric Hyyppa, Juha Suomalainen, and Eija Honkavaara

Keywords: Autonomous flying, Forest, Visual-Inertial Odometry, Mapping, Path Planning, Forest inventory

Abstract. During the last decade, the use of drones in forest monitoring and remote sensing has become highly popular. While most of the monitoring tasks take place in high altitudes and open air, in the last few years drones have also gained interest in under-canopy data collection. However, flying under the forest canopy is a complex task since the drone can not use Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) for positioning and it has to continually avoid obstacles, such as trees, branches, and rocks, on its path. For that reason, drone-based data collection under the forest canopy is still mainly based on manual control by human pilots. Autonomous flying in GNSS-denied obstacle-rich environment has been an actively researched topic in the field of robotics during the last years and various open-sourced methods have been published in the literature. However, most of the research is done purely from the point-of-view of robotics and only a few studies have been published in the boundary of forest sciences and robotics aiming to take steps towards autonomous forest data collection. In this study, a prototype of an autonomous under-canopy drone is developed and implemented utilizing state-of-the-art open-source methods. The prototype is utilizing the EGO-Planner-v2 trajectory planner for autonomous obstacle avoidance and VINS-Fusion for Visual-inertial-odometry based GNSS-free pose estimation. The flying performance of the prototype is evaluated by performing multiple test flights with real hardware in two different boreal forest test plots with medium and difficult densities. Furthermore, the first results of the forest data collecting performance are obtained by post-processing the data collected with a low-cost stereo camera during one test flight to a 3D point cloud and by performing diameter breast at height (DBH) estimation. In the medium-density forest, all seven test flights were successful, but in the difficult test forest, one of eight test flights failed. The RMSE of the DBH estimation was 3.86 cm (12.98 %).