UAV Tracking with Lidar as a Camera Sensors in GNSS-Denied Environments

Ha Sier, Xianjia Yu, Iacopo Catalano, Jorge Peña Queralta, Zhuo Zou, Tomi Westerlund

LiDAR has become one of the primary sensors in robotics and autonomous system for high-accuracy situational awareness. In recent years, multi-modal LiDAR systems emerged, and among them, LiDAR-as-a-camera sensors provide not only 3D point clouds but also fixed-resolution 360º panoramic images by encoding either depth, reflectivity, or near-infrared light in the image pixels. This potentially brings computer vision capabilities on top of the potential of LiDAR itself. In this paper, we are specifically interested in utilizing LiDARs and LiDAR-generated images for tracking Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in real-time which can benefit applications including docking, remote identification, or counter-UAV systems, among others. This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first work that explores the possibility of fusing the images and point cloud generated by a single LiDAR sensor to track a UAV without a priori known initialized position. We trained a custom YOLOv5 model for detecting UAVs based on the panoramic images collected in an indoor experiment arena with a MOCAP system. By integrating with the point cloud, we are able to continuously provide the position of the UAV. Our experiment demonstrated the effectiveness of the proposed UAV tracking approach compared with methods based only on point clouds or images. Additionally, we evaluated the real-time performance of our approach on the Nvidia Jetson Nano, a popular mobile computing platform.