Biomimetic optic flow sensing applied to a lunar landing scenario

  • Valette Florent
  • Ruffier Franck
  • Viollet Stéphane
  • Seidl Tobias


Autonomous landing on unknown extraterrestrial bodies requires fast, noise-resistant motion processing to elicit appropriate steering commands. Flying insects excellently master visual motion sensing techniques to cope with highly parallel data at a low energy cost, using dedicated motion processing circuits. Results obtained in neurophysiological, behavioural, and biorobotic studies on insect flight control were used to safely land a spacecraft on the Moon in a simulated environment. ESA's Advanced Concepts Team has identified autonomous lunar landing as a relevant situation for testing the potential applications of innovative bio-inspired visual guidance systems to space missions. Biomimetic optic flow-based strategies for controlling automatic landing were tested in a very realistic simulated Moon environment. Visual information was provided using the PANGU software program and used to regulate the optic flow generated during the landing of a two degrees of freedom spacecraft. The results of the simulation showed that a single elementary motion detector coupled to a regulator robustly controlled the autonomous descent and the approach of the simulated moonlander. ``Low gate'' located approximately 10 m above the ground was reached with acceptable vertical and horizontal speeds of 4 m/s and 5 m/s, respectively. It was also established that optic flow sensing methods can be used successfully to cope with temporary sensor blinding and poor lighting conditions.