Modeling and control of UAV bearing formations with bilateral high-level steering

Antonio Franchi, Carlo Masone, Volker Grabe, Markus Ryll, Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Paolo Robuffo Giordano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper we address the problem of controlling the motion of a group of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) bound to keep a formation defined in terms of only relative angles (i.e. a bearing formation). This problem can naturally arise within the context of several multi-robot applications such as, e.g. exploration, coverage, and surveillance. First, we introduce and thoroughly analyze the concept and properties of bearing formations, and provide a class of minimally linear sets of bearings sufficient to uniquely define such formations. We then propose a bearing-only formation controller requiring only bearing measurements, converging almost globally, and maintaining bounded inter-agent distances despite the lack of direct metric information.The controller still leaves the possibility of imposing group motions tangent to the current bearing formation. These can be either autonomously chosen by the robots because of any additional task (e.g. exploration), or exploited by an assisting human co-operator. For this latter 'human-in-the-loop' case, we propose a multi-master/multi-slave bilateral shared control system providing the co-operator with some suitable force cues informative of the UAV performance. The proposed theoretical framework is extensively validated by means of simulations and experiments with quadrotor UAVs equipped with onboard cameras. Practical limitations, e.g. limited field-of-view, are also considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1504-1539
Number of pages36
JournalInternational Journal of Robotics Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Oct


  • Networked robots
  • aerial robotics
  • distributed robot systems
  • field and service robotics
  • interfaces and virtual reality
  • mobile and distributed robotics SLAM
  • sensing and perception computer vision
  • simulation
  • surveillance systems
  • telerobotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Applied Mathematics


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