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A new algorithm, called rapidly exploring random tree of trees (RRTOT) is proposed, that aims to address the challenge of planning for autonomous structural inspection. Given a representation of a structure, a visibility model of an onboard sensor, an initial robot configuration and constraints, RRTOT computes inspection paths that provide full coverage. Sampling based techniques and a meta-tree structure consisting of multiple RRT* trees are employed to find admissible paths with decreasing cost. Using this approach, RRTOT does not suffer from the limitations of strategies that separate the inspection path planning problem into that of finding the minimum set of observation points and only afterwards compute the best possible path among them. Analysis is provided on the capability of RRTOT to find admissible solutions that, in the limit case, approach the optimal one. The algorithm is evaluated in both simulation and experimental studies. An unmanned rotorcraft equipped with a vision sensor was utilized as the experimental platform and validation of the achieved inspection properties was performed using 3D reconstruction techniques.
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