Unmanned aerial vehicle technology is rapidly maturing. In recent years, the sight of hobbyist aircraft has become more common. Corporations and governments are also interested in using drone aircraft for applications such as package delivery, surveillance and communications. These autonomous UAV technologies demand robust systems that perform under any circumstances. Many UAV applications rely on GPS to obtain information about their location and velocity. However, the GPS system has known vulnerabilities, including environmental signal degradation, terrestrial or solar weather, or malicious attacks such as GPS spoofing. These conditions occur with enough frequency to cause concern. Without a GPS signal, the state estimation in many autopilots quickly degrades. In the absence of a reliable backup navigation scheme, this loss of state will cause the aircraft to drift off course, and in many cases the aircraft will lose power or crash. While no single approach can solve all of the issues with GPS signal degradation, individual events can be addressed and solved. In this thesis, we present a system which will return an aircraft to its launch point upon the loss of GPS. This functionality is advantageous because it allows recovery of the UAV in circumstances which the lack of GPS information would make difficult. The system presented in this thesis accomplishes the return of the aircraft by means of onboard visual navigation, which removes the dependence of the aircraft on external sensors and systems. The system presented here uses an downward-facing onboard camera and computer to capture a string of overlapping images (keyframes) of the ground as the aircraft travels on its outbound journey. When a signal is received, the aircraft switches into return-to-home mode. The system uses the homography matrix and other vision processing techniques to produce information about the location of the current keyframe relative to the aircraft. This information is used to navigate the aircraft to the location of each saved keyframe in reverse order. As each keyframe is reached, the system programmatically loads the next target keyframe. By following the chain of keyframes in reverse, the system reaches the launch location. Contributions in this thesis include the return-to-home visual flight system for UAVs, which has been tested in simulation and with flight tests. Features of this system include methods for determining new keyframes and switching keyframes on the inbound flight, extracting data between images, and flight navigation based on this information. This system is a piece of the wider GPS-denied framework under development in the BYU MAGICC lab.



College and Department

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



Date Submitted


Document Type





Homography, visual navigation, autonomous flight, aircraft controls