Large-scale Exploration of Cave Environments by

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Pavel Petracek, Vit Kratky, Matej Petrlik, Tomas Baca, Radim Kratochvil, Martin Saska

Published in IEEE Robotics & Automation Letters, 2021   |   Paper available: pdf

This paper presents a self-contained system for the robust utilization of aerial robots in the autonomous exploration of cave environments to help human explorers, first responders, and speleologists. The proposed system is generally applicable to an arbitrary exploration task within an unknown and unstructured subterranean environment and interconnects crucial robotic subsystems providing full autonomy of the robots. Such subsystems primarily include mapping, path and trajectory planning, localization, control, and decision making. Due to the diversity, complexity, and structural uncertainty of natural cave environments, the proposed system allows for the possible use of any arbitrary exploration strategy for a single robot, as well as for a cooperating team. A multi-robot cooperation strategy maximizing the limited flight time of each aerial robot is proposed for exploration and search & rescue scenarios where the homing of all deployed robots back to an initial location is not required. The entire system is validated in a comprehensive experimental analysis comprising of hours of flight time in a real-world cave environment, as well as by hundreds of hours within a state-of-the-art virtual testbed that was developed for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge robotic competition. Among others, experimental results include multiple real-world exploration flights traveling over 470 m on a single battery in a demanding unknown cave environment.

Cite as:

  author={Petracek, Pavel and Kratky, Vit and Petrlik, Matej and Baca, Tomas and Kratochvil, Radim and Saska, Martin},
  journal={IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters},
  title={Large-Scale Exploration of Cave Environments by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles},


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