Paper: A staged approach to evolving real-world UAV controllers

September 19th, 2019

A testbed has recently been introduced that evolves controllers for arbitrary hover-capable UAVs, with evaluations occurring directly on the robot.

To prepare the testbed for real-world deployment, we investigate the effects of state-space limitations brought about by physical tethering (which prevents damage to the UAV during stochastic tuning), on the generality of the evolved controllers.

We identify generalisation issues in some controllers, and propose an improved method that comprises two stages: in the first stage, controllers are evolved as normal using standard tethers, but experiments are terminated when the population displays basic flight competency.

Optimisation then continues on a much less restrictive tether, effectively free-flying, and is allowed to explore a larger state-space envelope. We compare the two methods on a hover task using a real UAV, and show that more general solutions are generated in fewer generations using the two-stage approach. A secondary experiment undertakes a sensitivity analysis of the evolved controllers.


Howard, G.D. & Elfes, A. Evol. Intel. (2019) 12: 491.
Download the full paper here.
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