The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | Sept 212007

Robotics Institute Seminar, Sept 21, 2007
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth:  Intelligent Navigation and Collaboration for Air Vehicles



Sanjiv Singh

Associate Research Professor, The Robotics Institute

Carnegie Mellon University                          


Time and Place


Maudlin Auditorium (NSH 1305 )

Talk 3:30 pm




In the last two decades autonomous robots with legs and wheels have moved cautiously from simple indoor environments to the more complicated outdoors. Some robots now drive at highway speeds while others negotiate rough terrain even on distant planets with minimal supervision. In contrast, autonomous air  vehicles have been constrained to fly high where they are very unlikely to encounter obstacles,  or to fly under careful manual supervision when close to the ground.

 In this talk I will discuss an agenda for intelligent air vehicles that  navigate, explore and collaborate in and around significant three dimensional structures. Fundamental to intelligent navigation is the ability to get from A to B, without prior knowledge of the environment,  sensing and avoiding obstacles in the way.   I will describe  intelligent control or an autonomous helicopter that has evolved from  autonomous ground vehicles in development at Carnegie Mellon since the early 1980s.  Continuing the philosophy of "plan globally, react locally",  we have developed a tiered architecture  that simplifies the need to consider geometry and  dynamics simultaneously.  The highest level plans paths considering geometry of the environment, a middle layer  controls steering incorporating vehicle dynamics, using the  planned path as a suggestion, and the lowest level modulates speed using a forward closed-loop model of the control.
While the logistics and safety issues of autonomous flight are complicated, I will show why in many cases, "slipping the surly bonds of earth" simplifies the problem of  intelligent navigation.   I will show results from series of  experiments that have recently demonstrated  autonomous flight  close to the ground, between wires, trees and buildings.    I will conclude with an  overview of related  projects that are extending autonomous  navigation to  mapping, avoidance of other aircraft, and collaboration with  ground vehicles.

Speaker Biography

Sanjiv Singh is an Associate Research Professor at the Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University. His recent work has two main themes: perception in 
natural environments and multi-agent coordination. He has led projects in both ground and air vehicles operating in unknown or partially known environments, 
in applications such as mining, agriculture, emergency response, surveillance and exploration.  He is also actively involved in the automation of complex tasks, 
such as the assembly of large space structures, that can not be addressed by single agents and must necessarily be performed by teams.  Prof Singh received 
his B.S in Computer Science from the University of Denver (1983) M.S in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University (1985) and a PhD in Robotics from 
Carnegie Mellon (1995). He  is the founder and  Editor-in-Chief of the  Journal of Field Robotics.

Speaker Appointments


For appointments, please contact Peggy Martin (

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.