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Technical Perspective: A Control Theorist's View on Reactive Control for Autonomous Drones

In the late 1990s, at about the time as an upsurge of interest among theorists in real-time control in which feedback loops were closed through rate-limited communication channels, the Bluetooth communication standard was introduced to enable "local area networks of things." Various research groups, including my own, became interested in implementing feedback control using Bluetooth channels in order to evaluate the design principles that we and others had developed for communication-limited real-time systems. With device networks taking on ever increasing importance, our Bluetooth work was part of an emergent area within control theory that was aimed at systems using existing infrastructure rather than systems of sensors, actuators, and data links that were co-optimized to work together to meet performance objectives.

The main challenge of using infrastructure that was designed for purposes other than real-time applications was that none of the infrastructure-optimized computation and communication protocols are well suited to closing feedback loops of control systems. The work of Mottola and Whitehouse is somewhat along these lines—with the infrastructure in this case being the control logic and feedback control algorithms that are found on popular UAV autopilot platforms such as Ardupilot, Pixhawk, the Qualcomm Snapdragon, and the now discontinued OpenPilot. Several such autopilots are target platforms for the software described in the following paper.


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