Underwater vehicle obstacle avoidance and path planning using a multi-beam forward looking sonar

Yvan Petillot, Ioseba Tena Ruiz, David M. Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes a new framework for segmentation of sonar images, tracking of underwater objects and motion estimation. This framework is applied to the design of an obstacle avoidance and path planning system for underwater vehicles based on a multi-beam forward looking sonar sensor. The real-time data flow (acoustic images) at the input of the system is first segmented and relevant features are extracted. We also take advantage of the real-time data stream to track the obstacles in following frames to obtain their dynamic characteristics. This allows us to optimize the preprocessing phases in segmenting only the relevant part of the images. Once the static (size and shape) as well as dynamic characteristics (velocity, acceleration, ...) of the obstacles have been computed, we create a representation of the vehicle's workspace based on these features. This representation uses constructive solid geometry (CSG) to create a convex set of obstacles defining the workspace. The tracking takes also into account obstacles which are no longer in the field of view of the sonar in the path planning phase. A well-proven nonlinear search (sequential quadratic programming) is then employed, where obstacles are expressed as constraints in the search space. This approach is less affected by local minima than classical methods using potential fields. The proposed system is not only capable of obstacle avoidance but also of path planning in complex environments which include fast moving obstacles. Results obtained on real sonar data are shown and discussed. Possible applications to sonar servoing and real-time motion estimation are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-251
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2001


  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Path planning
  • Segmentation
  • Sonar
  • Tracking
  • Underwater robotics


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