Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering


Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

Richard G. Cobb, PhD


A current challenge in path planning is the ability to efficiently calculate a near-optimum path solution through a highly-constrained environment in near-real time. In addition, computing performance on a small unmanned aerial vehicle is typically limited due to size and weight restrictions. The proposed method determines a solution quickly by first mapping a highly constrained three-dimensional environment to a two-dimensional weighted node surface in which the weighting accounts for both the terrain gradient and the vehicle's performance. The 2D surface is then discretized into triangles which are sized based upon the vehicle maneuverability and terrain gradient. The shortest feasible path between the nodes of the two-dimensional triangulated surface is determined using an A* algorithm. An optimal path is then chosen through the unconstrained corridor to yield a quick near-optimal path solution in three-dimensional space. This technique requires prior knowledge of the terrain map and vehicle performance. The cost to traverse each segment of the map is independent of the starting position on the map and can be pre-calculated once the goal position is known. The proposed method allows for a rapid path solution from any start position to a goal position while satisfying all constraints. It was shown that employing the methodology herein resulted in near-optimal solutions in less than a couple seconds for the scenarios tested. The future work section proposes methods for improving the algorithms efficiency even further.

AFIT Designator