Sampling-based hierarchical motion planning for a reconfigurable wheel-on-leg planetary analogue exploration rover

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Field Robotics, 2019
Issue Date:
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© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Reconfigurable mobile planetary rovers are versatile platforms that may safely traverse cluttered environments by morphing their physical geometry. Planning paths for these adaptive robots is challenging due to their many degrees of freedom, and the need to consider potentially continuous platform reconfiguration along the length of the path. We propose a novel hierarchical structure for asymptotically optimal (AO) sampling-based planners and specifically apply it to the state-of-the-art Fast Marching Tree (FMT*) AO planner. Our algorithm assumes a decomposition of the full configuration space into multiple subspaces, and begins by rapidly finding a set of paths through one such subspace. This set of solutions is used to generate a biased sampling distribution, which is then explored to find a solution in the full configuration space. This technique provides a novel way to incorporate prior knowledge of subspaces to efficiently bias search within existing AO sampling-based planners. Importantly, probabilistic completeness and asymptotic optimality are preserved. Experimental results in simulation are provided that benchmark the algorithm against state-of-the-art sampling-based planners without the hierarchical variation. Additional experimental results performed with a physical wheel-on-leg platform demonstrate application to planetary rover mobility and showcase how constraints such as actuator failures and sensor pointing may be easily incorporated into the planning problem. In minimizing an energy objective that combines an approximation of the mechanical work required for platform locomotion with that required for reconfiguration, the planner produces intuitive behaviors where the robot dynamically adjusts its footprint, varies its height, and clambers over obstacles using legged locomotion. These results illustrate the generality of the planner in exploiting the platform's mechanical ability to fluidly transition between various physical geometric configurations, and wheeled/legged locomotion modes, without the need for predefined configurations.
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