Thomas Stastny

Aerial-Robotics Researcher

About Me

Hi, I'm TJ. I'm currently a Senior Researcher in the Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL) at ETH Zürch, Switzerland, where I also completed my PhD in Robotics (Summer 2020) with Prof. Roland Siegwart. My work at ASL spans design, system identification, state estimation, control, and planning for fixed-wing and hybrid vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial robots operating in unstructured environments (the real world!). A significant porition of my time as a PhD student was additionally geared towards developing autonomous behaviors for the endurance world record holding AtlantikSolar UAV.

Prior to my PhD, I completed a Bachelors and Masters of Science in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas, USA. My Masters work was funded by the NSF Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), where I worked on the development of radar-integrated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for measuring the thickness of ice sheets in Antarctica. During my Bachelors degree, I also spent one semester abroad taking courses within the Systems & Control Masters program at TU Delft, the Netherlands.

I have a passion for aerial-robotic field work, having deployed UAVs to the Arctic, Antarctic, Brazilian Amazon, and Swiss/Italian Alps. My primary research motivations are geared towards enabling safe, reliable, and useful(!) autonomous aerial-robotic operations in remote settings.

Selected Projects

@: ASL, ETH Zürich | CReSIS, University of Kansas


Autonomous Systems Lab (ASL), ETH Zürich


Drop & Recovery Drones

We developed hardware and algorithms for autonomous, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), drone-based deployment of low-power, long-term GNSS monitoring stations on the Gorner Glacier, Switzerland, for multi-point, in situ ice motion recording. Funding from armasuisse S+T and the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI).

Michael Pantic, Dario Panzuto, Thomas Stastny, Guillaume Jouvet, Juan Nieto, and Roland Siegwart


Sun2Ice: Monitoring Glaciers with Solar-Powered UAVs

Together with glaciologists from the Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology, and Glaciology at ETH Zürich, I organized and lead a glacier monitoring field campaign to Qaanaaq, Greenland (77°N!), resulting in the first-ever autonomous, BVLOS, solar-powered flights of a UAV in a polar region. Funded by the ETH Foundation. See blog post here.


Flying Backwards(..?!)

Small, long-range, fixed-wing UAVs executing surveying, mapping, or searching missions will inevitably encounter strong and turbulent wind fields, at times reaching to, or even exceeding the aircraft's nominal airspeed. I developed efficient (energetically and computationally) wind-aware guidance logic to allow safe flight in these conditions. (paper, dissertation)


VTOL Tilt-Wing UAV Control

We developed mathematical modeling and controller design for an over-actuated Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) tilt-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Performance of the controller is demonstrated in hovering, transitioning, and cruising flight experiments.

David Rohr, Thomas Stastny, Sebastian Verling, and Roland Siegwart (paper)


Nonlinear MPC for Fixed-Wing UAVs

Part of my PhD work involved the development of a long-horizon nonlinear model predictive controller (NMPC) for fixed-wing UAVs, considering path following objectives, stall prevention, actuator fault tolerance, wind-awareness, and explicit vision-based terrain feedback. (paper1, paper2, dissertation)


VTOL Tailsiter UAV Control

I've had the opportunity to work with Sebastian Verling (Co-Founder of Wingtra) and several students on a range of projects related to the development of control and estimation techniques for VTOL tailsitter UAVs including transition optimization, full envelope system identification, wind estimation, fault-tolerant control (see video below!).

Silvan Fuhrer, Sebastian Verling, Thomas Stastny, and Roland Siegwart (paper)


AtlantikSolar: A Perpetual Flight Capable Solar-Powered UAV

I worked with the Fixed-Wing Team at the Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH Zürich, conducting performance optimization and developing automatic take-off, landing, and cruise control design for the AtlantikSolar UAV, resulting in an 81.5 hour endurance world record solar-powered flight for all aircraft below 50kg (blog, paper) and 26 hour, fully autonomous, search and rescue payload equipped flight with passive thermal updraft detection and exploitation (blog, paper).


Adventura AtlantikSolar@Brazil

During an expedition to the Brazilian Amazon, we had the opportunity to work with SIPAM (Brazilian Amazon Protection Agency) on a real-life disaster relief support mission, using the AtlinkSolar UAV. A boat carrying 5000 cattle sunk in the Bacarena Port of the Rio Pará, Belém, Brazil, further spilling 740 tons oil. This was a suprise mission during the Adventura AtlantikSolar@Brazil project, organized together with Swissnex, Brazil.


Free LSD! (...Landing Site Detection)

Full autonomy for fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) requires the capability to autonomously detect potential landing sites in unknown and unstructured terrain, allowing for self-governed mission completion or handling of emergency situations. We developed a perception system addressing this challenge by detecting landing sites based on their texture and geometric shape without using any prior knowledge about the environment.

Timo Hinzmann, Thomas Stastny, Cesar Cadena, Roland Siegwart, and Igor Gilitschenski (paper)


SenseSoar2: A Solar-Powered UAV for Precision Agriculture

I worked on an ESA funded collaboration between ASL and GAMAYA, the project SOLAR3 led to the development of novel UAV platform, SenseSoar2, equipped with a hyper spectral imaging (HSI) camera for long-range precision farming flights. The SenseSoar2 system has been successfully operated in Ukraine by an internal national drone operator during the 2018-2019 years. SenseSoar2 was additionally utiliized in collaboration with Swiss industry partners Swisscom, INVOLI, and v2sky, where we were able to demonstrate the first networked, BVLOS flight of a UAV in Switzerland, over Lake Neuchâtel.


SHERPA: Search & Rescue Robots

I was a core researcher on the EU FP7 funded SHERPA project; a large-scale research project for mixed ground and aerial robotic platforms to support search and rescue activities in real-world hostile environments such as an alpine scenario. Our contribution included the demonstration of collaborative heterogeneous aerial deployments combining fixed-wing and R-MAX helicopter platforms for distributed environmental mapping and missing person identification. (paper1,paper2).


Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), University of Kansas, USA


UAV-Based Radar Sounding of Sub-Glacial Bedrock in Antarctica

I embarked on an 8-week deployment with the University of Kansas' Automatic Flight Systems team to Lake Whillans Glacier, Anatarcica resulting in first-ever autonomous glacial bed-rock sounding via a UAV. More info here.


Multi-Agent Avoidance and Formation Control for Fixed-Wing UAVs

During my time as a Masters graduate research assistant in the University of Kansas Aerospace Dept., I conducted research on control and planning for fixed-wing UAVs including multi-agent avoidance and formation strategies (paper1, paper2).

Publications

See publication metrics on Google Scholar.


Dissertation

T. Stastny. "Low-Altitude Control and Local Re-Planning Strategies for Small Fixed-Wing UAVs". Doctoral Thesis, ETH Zürich. 2020.

pdf | ETH Research Collection


Journal Papers

2020

D. Malyuta, C. Brommer, D. Hentzen, T. Stastny, R. Siegwart, and R. Brockers. "Long-duration Fully Autonomous Operation of Rotorcraft Unmanned Aerial Systems for Remote-sensing Data Acquisition". Journal of Field Robotics (JFR). | arxiv

2019

D. Rohr, T. Stastny, S. Verling, and R. Siegwart. "Attitude and Cruise Control of a VTOL Tiltwing UAV". IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L). | arxiv | video

2018

T. Hinzmann, T. Stastny, C. Cadena, R. Siegwart, and I. Gilitschenski. "Free LSD: Prior-free Visual Landing Site Detection for Autonomous Planes". IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L). | arxiv | video

2018

P. Oettershagen, T. Stastny, T. Hinzmann, K. Rudin, T. Mantel, A. Melzer, B. Wawrzacz, G. Hitz, and R. Siegwart. "Robotic Technologies for Solar-powered UAVs: Fully Autonomous Updraft-aware Aerial Sensing for Multiday Search-and-rescue Missions". Journal of Field Robotics (JFR). | publisher | video

2017

P. Oettershagen, A. Melzer, Mantel, K. Rudin, T. Stastny, B. Wawrzacz, T. Hinzmann, S. Leutenegger, K. Alexis, and R. Siegwart. "Design of Small Hand-launched Solar-powered UAVs: From Concept Study to a Multi-day World Endurance Record Flight". Journal of Field Robotics (JFR). | publisher | video

2015

T. Stastny, G. Garcia, and S. Keshmiri. "Collision and Obstacle Avoidance in Unmanned Aerial Systems Using Morphing Potential Field Navigation and Nonlinear Model Predictive Control". Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control. | publisher | video

2015

G. Garcia, S. Keshmiri, and T. Stastny. "Nonlinear Model Predictive Controller Robustness Extension for Unmanned Aircraft". International Journal of Intelligent Unmanned Systems. | publisher

2014

G. Garcia, S. Keshmiri, and T. Stastny. "Robust and Adaptive Nonlinear Model Predictive Controller for Unsteady and Highly Nonlinear Unmanned Aircraft". IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology. | publisher


Book Chapters

2017

M. Kamel, T. Stastny, K. Alexis, R. Siegwart. "Model Predictive Control for Trajectory Tracking of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Using Robot Operating System". Robot Operating System (ROS), The Complete Reference (Volume 2). | publisher


Peer-Reviewed Conference Papers

2021

C. Olsson, S. Verling, T. Stastny, and R. Siegwart. "Full Envelope System Identification of a VTOL Tailsitter UAV". AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) Conference. Accepted for publication.

2020

M. Harms, N. Kaufmann, F. Rockenbauer, N. Lawrance, T. Stastny, and R. Siegwart. "Differential Sweep Attitude Control for Swept Wing UAVs". International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS). | publisher

2019

T. Stastny and R. Siegwart. "On Flying Backwards: Preventing Run-away of Small, Low-speed, Fixed-wing UAVs in Strong Winds". IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). | arxiv | video

2019

D. Hentzen, T. Stastny, R. Siegwart, and R. Brockers. "Disturbance Estimation and Rejection for High-Precision Multirotor Position Control". IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). | arxiv | video

2019

T. Stastny, E. Ahbe, M. Dangel, and R. Siegwart. "Locally Power-optimal Nonlinear Model Predictive Control for Fixed-wing Airborne Wind Energy". American Control Conference (ACC). | publisher

2019

S. Fuhrer, S. Verling, T. Stastny, and R. Siegwart. "Fault-tolerant Flight Control of a VTOL Tailsitter UAV". IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). | publisher

| video

2018

J. Lee, T. Muskardin, C. Pacz, P. Oettershagen, T. Stastny, I. Sa, R. Siegwart, and K. Kondak. "Towards Autonomous Stratospheric Flight: A Generic Global System Identification Framework for Fixed-Wing Platforms". IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). | publisher

2018

T. Stastny and R. Siegwart. "Nonlinear Model Predictive Guidance for Fixed-wing UAVs Using Identified Control Augmented Dynamics". International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS). | arxiv | video1, video2, video3

2017

L. Furieri, T. Stastny, L. Marconi, R. Siegwart, and I. Gilitschenski. "Gone with the Wind: Nonlinear Guidance for Small Fixed-wing Aircraft in Arbitrarily Strong Windfields". American Control Conference (ACC). Best Paper Award. | arxiv

2017

S. Verling, T. Stastny, G. Bättig, K. Alexis, and R. Siegwart. "Model-based Transition Optimization for a VTOL Tailsitter". IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). | publisher

2017

Y. Demitri, S. Verling, T. Stastny, A. Melzer, and R. Siegwart. "Model-based Wind Estimation for a Hovering VTOL Tailsitter UAV". IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). | publisher

2017

T. Stastny, A. Dash, and R. Siegwart. "Nonlinear MPC for Fixed-wing UAV Trajectory Tracking: Implementation and Flight Experiments". AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) Conference. | publisher

2016

P. Oettershagen, A. Melzer, T. Mantel, K. Rudin, T. Stastny, B. Wawrzacz, T. Hinzmann, K. Alexis, and R. Siegwart. "Perpetual Flight with a Small Solar-powered UAV: Flight Results, Performance Analysis and Model Validation". IEEE Aerospace Conference. | publisher

2016

T. Hinzmann, T. Stastny, G. Conte, P. Doherty, P. Rudol, M. Wzorek, I. Gilitschenski, E. Galceran, and R. Siegwart. "Collaborative 3D Reconstruction Using Heterogeneous UAVs: System and Experiments". International Symposium on Experimental Robotics (ISER). | publisher

2016

P. Doherty, J. Kvarnström, P. Rudol, M. Wzorek, G. Conte, C. Berger, T. Hinzmann, and T. Stastny. "Collaborative Framework for 3D Mapping Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles". International Conference on Principles and Practice of Multi-Agent Systems. | publisher

2015

P. Oettershagen, T. Stastny, T. Mantel, A. Melzer, K. Rudin, P. Gohl, G. Agamennoni, K. Alexis, and R. Siegwart. "Long-Endurance Sensing and Mapping using a Hand-Launchable Solar-Powered UAV". Field and Service Robotics (FSR). | pdf

2015

A. Vempati, G. Agamennoni, T. Stastny, and R. Siegwart. "Victim Detection from a Fixed-Wing UAV: Experimental Results". International Symposium on Visual Computing (ISVC). | publisher

2015

T. Stastny, G. Garcia, and S. Keshmiri. "Robust Three-Dimensional Collision Avoidance for Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Systems". AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) Conference. | publisher | video

2013

T. Stastny, R. Lykins, and S. Keshmiri. "Nonlinear Parameter Estimation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Wind Shear Using Artificial Neural Networks". AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) Conference. | publisher

2012

J. Sebes, W. Vanskike, M. Williams, S. McCandless, T. Stastny, G. Worden, N. Brunkhorst. "Flight Testing and Evaluation of the Structural Response to Flight Loads of a Small Scale Unmanned Aerial System". AIAA Infotech@ Aerospace. | publisher

2011

W. Vanskike, M. Williams,T. Stastny, A. Ghate, S. McCandless, and T. Peckman. "Hawkeye UAV Dynamic Analysis". AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference. | publisher


Magazine Articles

2013

T. Stastny. "Mars Exploration? Unleash the Swarms!". Ruimtevaart, Netherlands Space Society (NVR). | pdf


Patents

2013

M. Arigoni, R. Simpson, S. Fuhrer, P. Beardsley, D. Mammolo, M. Burri, M. Bischoff, T. Stastny, L. Rodgers, D. Krummenacher, and R. Siegwart. "Vehicles Configured For Navigating Surface Transitions". US Patent 10,464,620.

Teaching & Mentorship

Focus Projects | Student Theses | Lectures


Focus Projects


Dipper: Aerial-Aquatic Swept-Wing UAV

I coached a team of very talented Bachelors students in the year-long development of a flying, diving, swimming, and re-emerging, swept-wing aerial robot (more info here). Several of the team members further expanded on this work enabling us to publish a paper on variable sweep attitude control, see paper.


VertiGo: Wall-Riding Robot

I supervised two Bachelors students on the maneuver design, control, and estimation for the floor-to-wall transition of the VertiGo robot (more info here). See resulting patent.


Supervised Student Theses, ETH Zürich


Masters Theses

Spring 2020

Gian Heinrich. "Learning to Stall: Using in-air Pressure Data to Identify, Characterize, and Control Fixed-Wing Aircraft Stall".

Spring 2019

Dario Panzuto. "Development of a Drone-Released GPS Logging Unit for In Situ Monitoring of Fast-Flowing Glaciers".

Spring 2019

Michael Imobersteg. "Autonomous Retraction Control of Rigid Wing Airborne Wind Energy Systems".

Spring 2019

Adrian Ruckli. "A Deep Learning-Based Approach to Flexible-Wing Modeling for Wide-Baseline Stereo Vision on Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles".

Autumn 2018

David Rohr. "Tiltwing VTOL Flight-Control System". publication

Autumn 2018

Manuel Dangel. "Nonlinear Model Predictive Control for Fixed-Wing Airborne Wind Energy". publication

Spring 2018

Silvan Fuhrer. "Fault-Tolerant Flight Control of a VTOL Tailsitter UAV". publication

Spring 2018

Daniel Hentzen. "Robust Precision Landing for Multirotor UAS". publication

Spring 2018

Matthias Epprecht. "Bayesian Optimization Based Automatic Controller Tuning for Fixed-Wing UAVs".

Spring 2018

Fabian Bachmann. "Airflow Sensing and Control for Small Fixed-Wing UAVs".

Autumn 2017

Adyasha Dash. "Magnetometer Error Sources and Mitigation for Small UAVs".

Spring 2017

Danylo Malyuta. "Guidance, Navigation, Control and Mission Logic for Quadrotor Full-cycle Autonomy". publication

Spring 2017

Jongseok Lee. "Towards Autonomous Stratospheric Flight: A Generic Global System Identification Framework for Fixed-Wing Platforms". publication

Spring 2017

Carl Olsson. "Full Envelope System Identification of a VTOL Tailsitter UAV". publication

Autumn 2016

Youssef Demitri. "Robust Operation of a Hovering VTOL Tailsitter UAV in Wind".

Autumn 2016

Luca Furieri. "Geometric Versus Model Predictive Control Based Guidance Algorithms for Fixed-Wing UAVs in the Presence of Very Strong Wind Fields". publication

Autumn 2016

Pavel Verchersky. "Development of a Comprehensive, Hardware-in-the-loop Simulation Environment for Fixed-wing Unmanned Aircraft".

Autumn 2016

Nicolas El Hayek. "Ridge Lift Exploitation for Small Unmanned Fixed-Wing Aircraft".

Autumn 2015

Felix Renaut. "Vision-Based Autonomous Landing Site Detection for Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles".

Autumn 2014

Markus Thurnherr. "Model Predictive Control for Fixed-Wing UAVs Using LPV-Models".


Masters Semester Projects

Autumn 2020

Marco Job. "Analysis of Dynamic Landing Control for VTOL Tailsitters".

Autumn 2020

Lukas Spirig. "Study on True Airspeed Measurement Using Acoustic Whistles".

Spring 2020

Ramon Flammer. "Analysis of the Aerodynamic Effects on Coaxial Rotor Configurations".

Spring 2020

Matthias Studiger. "Model Predictive Longitudinal Cruise Control of a VTOL Tilt-Wing UAV".

Spring 2019

Gian Heinrich. "Optimizing Deep-stall Landing Maneuvers on Small Fixed-wing UAVs".

Spring 2019

Cla Galliard. "Nonlinear Total Energy Control System for Longitudinal Control of an Aircraft".

Spring 2019

Eloi Roset. "Wing Pressure Distribution Measurement for Small Fixed-Wing UAVs".

Spring 2019

Marko Maljkovic. "Online Neural Network Based Model Identification of a Fixed-Wing UAV".

Autumn 2018

Jasmin Fischli. "Online Neural Network Based System Identification for Fixed-wing UAVs".

Spring 2017

Silvan Fuhrer. "Sampling Based Motion Planning for Fixed-Wing UAV System Identification".

Spring 2016

Youssef Demitri. "Wind Estimation for a Hovering VTOL Tailsitter UAV". publication

Spring 2016

Léonard Schai. "Design, Manufacturing and Calibration of a Miniature Vector Probe for Small, Low Speed, Unmanned Aircraft".

Spring 2016

Adyasha Dash. "High Level Predictive Control of Fixed-Wing UAVs using Low Order System Models". publication

Spring 2016

Gregory Bättig. "Transition Optimization for a VTOL Tailsitter". publication

Spring 2016

Samuel Dobmann. "Design, Modeling, and Control of an Autonomous Underwater Glider".

Spring 2015

Ricardo Zurfluh. "Robust Airspeed Sensing in Harsh Environmental Conditions".


Bachelors Theses

Spring 2020

Severin Laasch. "Impact Compensation on Multicopters using Model Predictive Control".

Spring 2019

Marvin Harms & Noah Kaufmann. "Differential Sweep Attitude Control for Fixed-Wing UAVs". publication

Spring 2019

Friedrich Rockenbauer. "Cross-Validation of Simulation Models and Flight Test Data for Fixed-Wing UAVs".

Spring 2018

Marco Ruggia. "Design and Analysis of Small Scale Angle of Attack Sensors".

Spring 2018

Jonas Peter. "System Identification for an Airborne Wind Energy Aircraft".

Spring 2018

Adrian Schneebeli. "Optimization of the Back-Transition Maneuver for a VTOL UAV".

Spring 2018

Lucas Streichenberg. "Improved Hover Controller for an AWE System".

Spring 2017

Cla Galliard. "Spherical Guidance and Control for an Airborne Wind Energy System".

Spring 2017

Gabriel König. "Implementation and Validation of the Transition for a VTOL Airborne Wind Energy System".

Spring 2015

David Krummenacher. "Floor to Wall Transitions for a Wall Racing Robot".

Spring 2015

Michael Arigoni. "Control of a Wall Racing Robot for Agile Ground Maneuvers".


Lectures


Robot Dynamics, ETH Zürich (2015-Present)

I am a lecturer for the Robot Dynamics course offered in the ETH Zürich Robotics M.Sc. cirriculum. I teach the fundamentals of aerodynamics, flight dynamics, aircraft modeling and control for fixed-wing UAVs.


Optimal Control, University of Kansas (2013)

I taught two guest lectures on optimal output feedback control in the Optimal Controls M.Sc. course within the Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Kansas.


Introductory Topics in Mathematics / Elementary Statistics, University of Kansas (2010 – 2012)

I was a teaching assistant for the B.Sc. courses Introductory Topics in Mathematics and Elementary Statistics within the Mathematics Department at the University of Kansas.