Faculty Advisor

Raghvendra V. Cowlagi

Faculty Advisor

John A. Burns

Faculty Advisor

Nikolaos A. Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

Michael A. Demetriou


This work presents an approach which provides the real-time estimation of the gas concentration in a plume using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) equipped with concentration sensors. The plume is assumed to be generated by a moving aerial or ground source with unknown strength and location, and is modeled by the unsteady advection-diffusion equation with ambient winds and eddy diffusivities. The UAV dynamics is described using the point-mass model of a fixed-wing aircraft resulting in a sixth-order nonlinear dynamical system. The state (gas concentration) estimator takes the form of a Luenberger observer based on the advection-diffusion equation. The UAV in the approach is guided towards the region with the larger state-estimation error via an appropriate choice of a Lyapunov function thus coupling the UAV guidance with the performance of the gas concentration estimator. This coupled controls-CFD guidance scheme provides the desired Cartesian velocities for the UAV and based on these velocities a lower-level controller processes the control signals that are transmitted to the UAV. The finite-volume discretization of the estimator incorporates a second-order total variation diminishing (TVD) scheme for the advection term. For computational efficiency needed in real-time applications, a dynamic grid adaptation for the estimator with local grid-refinement centered at the UAV location is proposed. The approach is tested numerically for several source trajectories using existing specifications for the UAV considered. The estimated plumes are compared with simulated concentration data. The estimator performance is analyzed by the behavior of the RMS error of the concentration and the distance between the sensor and the source.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Aerospace Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





guidance, plume, dynamical system, state estimator, UAV