Placement and Motion Planning Algorithms for Robotic Sensing Systems

Pratap Tokekar

Adviser: Prof. Volkan Isler

tokekar at


Recent technological advances are making it possible to build teams of sensors and robots that can sense data from hard-to-reach places at unprecedented spatio-temporal scales. Robotic sensing systems hold the potential to revolutionize a diverse collection of applications such as agriculture, environmental monitoring, climate studies, security and surveillance in the near future. In order to make full use of this technology, it is crucial to complement it with efficient algorithms that plan for the sensing in these systems. In this dissertation, we develop new sensor planning algorithms and present prototype robotic sensing systems.

In the first part of this dissertation, we study two problems on placing stationary sensors to cover an environment. Our objective is to place the fewest number of sensors required to ensure that every point in the environment is covered. In the first problem, we say a point is covered if it is seen by sensors from all orientations. The environment is represented as a polygon and the sensors are modeled as omnidirectional cameras. Our formulation, which builds on the well-known art gallery problem, is motivated by practical applications such as visual inspection and video-conferencing where seeing objects from all sides is crucial. In the second problem, we study how to deploy bearing sensors in order to localize a target in the environment. The sensors measure noisy bearings towards the target which can be combined to localize the target. The uncertainty in localization is a function of the placement of the sensors relative to the target. For both problems we present (i) lower bounds on the number of sensors required for an optimal algorithm, and (ii) algorithms to place at most a constant times the optimal number of sensors.

In the second part of this dissertation, we study motion planning problems for mobile sensors. We start by investigating how to plan the motion of a team of aerial robots tasked with tracking targets that are moving on the ground. We then study various coverage problems that arise in two environmental monitoring applications: using robotic boats to monitor radio-tagged invasive fish in lakes, and using ground and aerial robots for data collection in precision agriculture. We formulate the coverage problems based on constraints observed in practice. We also present the design of prototype robotic systems for these applications. In the final problem, we investigate how to optimize the low-level motion of the robots to minimize their energy consumption and extend the system lifetime.

This dissertation makes progress towards building robotic sensing systems along two directions. We present algorithms with strong theoretical performance guarantees, often by proving our algorithms are optimal or that their costs are at most a constant factor away from the optimal values. We also demonstrate the feasibility and applicability of our results through system implementation and with results from simulations and extensive field experiments.