Decentralized Navigation of a UAV Team for Collaborative Covert Eavesdropping on a Group of Mobile Ground Nodes

Hailong Huang, Andrey V. Savkin, Wei Ni

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly applied to surveillance tasks, thanks to their excellent mobility and flexibility. Different from existing works using UAVs for video surveillance, this paper employs a UAV team to carry out collaborative radio surveillance on ground moving nodes and disguise the purpose of surveillance. We consider two aspects of disguise. The first is that the UAVs do not communicate with each other (or the ground nodes can notice), and each UAV plans its trajectory in a decentralized way. The other aspect of disguise is that the UAVs avoid being noticed by the nodes for which a metric quantifying the disguising performance is adopted. We present a new decentralized method for the online trajectory planning of the UAVs, which maximizes the disguising metric while maintaining uninterrupted surveillance and avoiding UAV collisions. Based on the model predictive control (MPC) technique, our method allows each UAV to separately estimate the locations of the UAVs and the ground nodes, and decide its trajectory accordingly. The impact of potential estimation errors is mitigated by incorporating the error bounds into the online trajectory planning, hence achieving a robust control of the trajectories. Computer-based simulation results demonstrate that the developed strategy ensures the surveillance requirement without losing disguising performance, and outperforms existing alternatives. Note to Practitioners - The paper is motivated by the covertness requirement in the radio surveillance (also called eavesdropping) by UAVs. In some situations, the UAV user (such as the police department) wishes to disguise the surveillance intention from the targets, and the trajectories of UAVs play a significant role in the disguising. However, the typical UAV trajectories such as standoff tracking and orbiting can easily be noticed by the targets. Considering this gap, we focus on how to plan the UAVs' trajectories so that they are less noticeable while conducting effective eavesdropping. We formulate a path planning problem aiming at maximizing a disguising metric, which measures the magnitude of the relative position change between a UAV and a target. A decentralized method is proposed for the online trajectory planning of the UAVs based on MPC, and its robust version is also presented to account for the uncertainty in the estimation and prediction of the nodes' states.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3932-3941
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022


  • Wireless communications
  • decentralized control
  • model predictive control (MPC)
  • radio surveillance
  • trajectory planning
  • unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering


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