Autonomous aerial refueling technology is an effective solution to extend flight duration of unmanned aerial vehicles, and also a great challenge due to its high risk. For autonomous probe-and-drogue refueling tasks, relative navigation to provide relative position between the receiver aircraft and the refueling drogue is the first and essential step, and vision-based method is the most frequently used. A new monocular vision navigation sensor with image processing strategy consisting of the drogue detection method and the tracking method is developed for autonomous aerial refueling in this paper. In the drogue detection method, thresholding and mathematical morphology method are adopted to eliminate image interference, and contours extraction method is applied to obtain all contours, which are then subsequently checked to achieve target contour of drogue. In the tracking method, a rectangle of interest (ROI) of current frame image is determined by positioning results of last frame, and then processed by the previous drogue detection method. Finally, the proposed image processing strategy in monocular vision navigation sensor is validated using real flight images, which are captured from an autonomous aerial refueling testbed using a micro six-rotor aircraft as receiver aircraft.
autonomous aerial refueling; computer vision; probe and drogue; target detection and tracking; ellipse fitting
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