Information based search for an atmospheric release using a mobile robot: algorithm and experiments

Finding the location and strength of an unknown hazardous release is of paramount importance in emergency response and environmental monitoring, thus it has been an active research area for several years known as source term estimation. This paper presents a joint Bayesian estimation and planning algorithm to guide a mobile robot to collect informative measurements, allowing the source parameters to be estimated quickly and accurately. The estimation is performed recursively using Bayes’ theorem, where uncertainties in the meteorological and dispersion parameters are considered and the intermittent readings from a low-cost gas sensor are addressed by a novel likelihood function. The planning strategy is designed to maximize the expected utility function based on the estimated information gain of the source parameters. Subsequently, this paper presents the first experimental result of such a system in turbulent, diffusive conditions, in which a ground robot equipped with a low-cost gas sensor responds to the hazardous source stimulated by incense sticks. The experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed estimation and search algorithm for source term estimation based on a mobile robot and a low-cost sensor.