The viability of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as a stable platform for specific application use has been significantly advanced in recent years. Initial focus of lightweight UAV development was to create a craft capable of stable and controllable flight. This is largely a solved problem. Currently, the field has progressed to the point that unmanned aircraft can be carried in a backpack, launched by hand, weigh only a few pounds and be capable of navigating through unrestricted airspace. The most basic use of a UAV is to visually observe the environment and use that information to influence decision making. Previous attempts at using visual information to control a small UAV used an off-board approach where the video stream from an onboard camera was transmitted down to a ground station for processing and decision making. These attempts achieved limited results as the two-way transmission time introduced unacceptable amounts of latency into time-sensitive control algorithms. Onboard image processing offers a low-latency solution that will avoid the negative effects of two-way communication to a ground station. The first part of this thesis will show that onboard visual processing is capable of meeting the real-time control demands of an autonomous vehicle, which will also include the evaluation of potential onboard computing platforms. FPGA-based image processing will be shown to be the ideal technology for lightweight unmanned aircraft. The second part of this thesis will focus on the exact onboard vision system implementation for two proof-of-concept applications. The first application describes the use of machine vision algorithms to locate and track a target landing site for a UAV. GPS guidance was insufficient for this task. A vision system was utilized to localize the target site during approach and provide course correction updates to the UAV. The second application describes a feature detection and tracking sub-system that can be used in higher level application algorithms.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Electrical and Computer Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





thesis, BYU, UAV, Robotic Vision Lab, MAGICC Lab, Helios, FPGA, image processing, vision guided landing, feature tracking