Contributions to Automated Realtime Underwater Navigation

Michael Jordan Stanway, Ph.D., 2012
Dana Yoerger, Advisor

This dissertation presents three separate–but related–contributions to the art of underwater navigation. These methods may be used in postprocessing with a human in the loop, but the overarching goal is to enhance vehicle autonomy, so the emphasis is on automated approaches that can be used in realtime. The three research threads are: i) in situ navigation sensor alignment, ii) dead reckoning through the water column, and iii) model-driven delayed measurement fusion. Contributions to each of these areas have been demonstrated in simulation, with laboratory data, or in the field–some have been demonstrated in all three arenas.

The solution to the in situ navigation sensor alignment problem is an asymptotically stable adaptive identifier formulated using rotors in Geometric Algebra. This identifier is applied to precisely estimate the unknown alignment between a gyrocompass and Doppler velocity log, with the goal of improving realtime dead reckoning navigation. Laboratory and field results show the identifier performs comparably to previously reported methods using rotation matrices, providing an alignment estimate that reduces the position residuals between dead reckoning and an external acoustic positioning system. The Geometric Algebra formulation also encourages a straightforward interpretation of the identifier as a proportional feedback regulator on the observable output error. Future applications of the identifier may include alignment between inertial, visual, and acoustic sensors.

The ability to link the Global Positioning System at the surface to precision dead reckoning near the seafloor might enable new kinds of missions for autonomous underwater vehicles. This research introduces a method for dead reckoning through the water column using water current profile data collected by an onboard acoustic Doppler current profiler. Overlapping relative current profiles provide information to simultaneously estimate the vehicle velocity and local ocean current–the vehicle velocity is then integrated to estimate position. The method is applied to field data using online bin average, weighted least squares, and recursive least squares implementations. This demonstrates an autonomous navigation link between the surface and the seafloor without any dependence on a ship or external acoustic tracking systems.

Finally, in many state estimation applications, delayed measurements present an interesting challenge. Underwater navigation is a particularly compelling case because of the relatively long delays inherent in all available position measurements. This research develops a flexible, model-driven approach to delayed measurement fusion in realtime Kalman filters. Using a priori estimates of delayed measurements as augmented states minimizes the computational cost of the delay treatment. Managing the augmented states with time-varying conditional process and measurement models ensures the approach works within the proven Kalman filter framework–without altering the filter structure or requiring any ad-hoc adjustments. The end result is a mathematically principled treatment of the delay that leads to more consistent estimates with lower error and uncertainty. Field results from dead reckoning aided by acoustic positioning systems demonstrate the applicability of this approach to real-world problems in underwater navigation.