Autonomous Target Search with Multiple Coordinated UAVs

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Chiara Piacentini
Sara Bernardini
J. Christopher Beck


Search and tracking is the problem of locating a moving target and following it to its destination. In this work, we consider a scenario in which the target moves across a large geographical area by following a road network and the search is performed by a team of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). We formulate search and tracking as a combinatorial optimization problem and prove that the objective function is submodular. We exploit this property to devise a greedy algorithm. Although this algorithm does not offer strong theoretical guarantees because of the presence of temporal constraints that limit the feasibility of the solutions, it presents remarkably good performance, especially when several UAVs are available for the mission. As the greedy algorithm suffers when resources are scarce, we investigate two alternative optimization techniques: Constraint Programming (CP) and AI planning. Both approaches struggle to cope with large problems, and so we strengthen them by leveraging the greedy algorithm. We use the greedy solution to warm start the CP model and to devise a domain-dependent heuristic for planning. Our extensive experimental evaluation studies the scalability of the different techniques and identifies the conditions under which one approach becomes preferable to the others.

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