Monday, August 7, 2017

2017-08-03: Ai Intern Derek Goddeau Brings Robot Arm To Life

It's one of the only robots in the Autonomy Incubator that doesn't roll or fly, but it's still just as fun to watch: it's the robotic arm we received from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and Derek Goddeau is in charge of making it move.

"Right now, it does all the path planning on its own, so I can just tell it 'move to xyz' and it does it without me giving it instructions step by step," he explained.

In the video, Derek has the arm generate random positions and move between them gracefully, without any part of the arm colliding with another part. Think of it like a very slow game of Snake. Once he and the arm work out how to do that reliably, it can start moving a little faster. Then, it can try performing tasks in real time.

"Eventually, it will be able to identify objects on its own and put them where they need to be," he said.

Derek comes to the Ai from the Computer Science department of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, where he's currently a senior. His interest in robots springs out of the time he spent serving in the Navy, where he worked as an avionics technician.

"I worked communication, navigation, and electronic warfare systems," he said. "I was in the Navy for six years, and then I left because I wanted to go to school."

Because of his career in the defense side of computer science, Derek enjoys concentrating on the security of network-connected devices that aren't computers in the traditional sense— a category that includes robots, like the ones in the Ai.

"I really like the security of weird things, like cell phones, and robots are one of those weird things. There aren't a lot of people doing that," he said.

In fact, Derek was part of a project at ODU last semester that allows people to detect when someone in the area is using a "Stingray", a device that mimics a cell phone tower and collects identifying information from all of the phones in its radius. If you're into cybersecurity, I'd highly recommend checking out the project's website here.

In the meantime, Derek's internship in the Ai has been a success, both for him and for the lab.

"I learned a whole lot about robotics, and Gazebo and ROS, definitely," he said.

Friday, July 21, 2017

2017-07-21: Autonomy Incubator High School Volunteers Compete in Rover Challenge

This summer brought a flood of high school volunteers to the Autonomy Incubator; between the contingent of students from the Governor's School and the kids volunteering through NASA connections, we hosted ten students from the Hampton Roads area. Originally, Ai head Danette Allen set them all to work on the same task: build a rover to carry a 25lb robotic arm.

However, division soon occurred within the group. One contingent wanted to use a commercial RC car base for maximum speed, while the other argued for building a tank-like base with six wheels for agility. Rather than making all of them agree on a design, Danette had a better idea.

"Do both," she said. "Split into teams, and at the end, we'll have a competition."

So, on the final day of the Governor's School students' stay at the Ai, volunteers Xuan Nguyen and Payton Heyman built an obstacle course and we had a robot rumble.

Xuan and Payton crafted the track from elements around Building 1222
For the results of the rover-off, you'll just have to watch the video. It's impossible to describe the sheer robot joy that all of these teenagers brought to the Ai over the last couple of weeks. Great job, everyone!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

2017-07-19: Autonomy Incubator Intern Abigail Hartley Opens Up a New Chapter

by Payton Heyman, a social media specialist-in-training

Abbey writing a post for the Autonomy Incubator Blog.

Abbey Hartley, an adored member of the Autonomy Incubator family, joined the team back in 2015 as a social media intern, but will soon be leaving to further her career after getting a new job with CBS.

Abbey grew up in Lake Wylie, South Carolina, and graduated just last year from Dartmouth with a degree in English.

 “I sort of stumbled into the job,” she explained, talking about how she first started at the Ai.  “My mother is good friends with Dr. Danette Allen, and she had told me to email her at the end of my junior year.”

 She ended up becoming the first person to ever formally work solely in the social media field here, and thanks to her, it has come a long way.  When she first started working in the summer of 2015, she only made daily Twitter updates and blog posts with the occasional short video made with iMovie, as the position was very new.

 When intern Kastan Day joined her in the summer of 2016, they made a great team and elevated the social media presence even more.  Better software became available, and within the next year the Autonomy Incubator Instagram, YouTube channel, and Facebook came to life, opening up a realm of creative ideas.

 “[The job] was great, I loved it!  I was the only person I knew interning at NASA.” Abbey expressed about coming back for a second summer.

 “I’m always learning here and there are rarely opportunities like this for people like me.” She added.

Abbey hand flying a drone for a research project back in February.

After returning as a NASA intern four separate times, she decided to begin applying for jobs outside of the Langley Research Center, and has just recently scored the position of a multimedia journalist for CBS in Washington D.C.  Here she will be a reporter for and is beyond thrilled for the opportunity.

 Her grandpa was a nuclear physicist during the Cold War and her brother anticipates on joining the air force as a flight surgeon following the completion of medical school, so she has a lot of connections with the subject matter and cares deeply about it.

 The company mainly hires veterans and people who have experience in working for the federal government.  Since Abbey has three years under her belt and a family history of employment in the military, she fit the job perfectly.

 “There are a lot of things out there for veterans, but they don’t even know about it,” Abbey explained,  “[the company] has really good things going for it.”

 Her potential last day here at the Ai is the eleventh of August, but she continues to do great things in the office every single day that passes.

 “I’m really going to miss the people here.  Everyone here is my friend, and it’s going to be really hard to leave what has become my family from the only job I’ve ever really had.  Hopefully, I can come back and visit somehow,” she said.

 Extraordinary things are approaching for Abigail Hartley, but her fun spirit, determination, and strong work ethic will be missed greatly.  Her contributions here have been remarkable, as she has, without a doubt, left an immense footprint on the Ai.  We all know she is destined for success and we are looking forward to seeing her start a new chapter in her life next month. God speed, Abbey!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2017-07-19: Autonomy Incubator Aids in Coordinated Ozone Measurement Effort

In a very cool side quest to the OWLETS mission, the Autonomy Incubator launched a Hive UAV to measure atmospheric concentrations of ozone while a balloon and a C-23 Sherpa aircraft from Wallops simultaneously collected similar measurements.

The Sherpa took off from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore, then flew south across the Chesapeake bay and performed a spiral above the CBBT island where OWLETS takes measurements. Then, it flew over to NASA Langley and performed a spiral while researchers on the ground launched a weather balloon and flew a Hive loaded with sensors into the air to take samples.

By taking the same measurements in multiple ways, NASA can collect correlative data about the composition of our atmosphere. This is the first time the Autonomy Incubator has been part of such a massive coordinated flight campaign, and it was thrilling for all of us.

Stay tuned for more about OWLETS, including the science from OWLETS PI, Tim Berkoff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

2017-07-18: Volunteers Compete for the Best Rover

by Payton Heyman, Ai social media specialist-in-training

Cameron Fazio and Eric Smith prepare their rover, Churromobile, for a test drive.
Whose rover will reign victorious here at the Autonomy Incubator?  Seven high school students, some volunteers and some part of a residential governor's school program, are competing against each other in two opposing groups to answer that question.

The goal of the competition is to successfully build a mobile rover in order to mount a 25-pound robotic arm on the top.  This arm will be capable of moving a 7-8 pound wooden truss; however, the rover must be stable and not tip when the arm extends.

The interior of ChurroMobile prior to adding hinges and a flat base to prop the arm on.
The first step of the project was the design, in which they focused on the creation of multiple 3D digital mock-ups to help decide on a final model.  Different components were then ordered to start their task.  Most were commercial, off-the-shelf parts, but some were ordered from a robotics competition vendor.  The majority of them came in a kit where all of the pieces, screws, and instructions are included, allowing them to easily assemble the rover with only some slight modifications needed for additional equipment.

Then, each team had to wire up all of the electronics on the rover.  Luckily this was quite simple since the controller board that is being used has several components in one.  For example, it connects the speed controllers to the motor, as described by Eric Smith, one of the governor's school students and member of Group One.

Eric Smith started working with robotics in seventh grade and has continued
working with them for nearly five years, as he will soon begin his senior year this fall.
"In our case, the electronic wiring is relatively simple," Eric stated after several
years of experience in clubs at school and competing in robotics competitions.
Once the rover can move smoothly, an arm will be attached to the top in order to extend and grab the trusts created by Xuan Nguyen, a volunteer and competitor in Group Two.

The quarter-scale trusses are fairly basic structures made of wooden sticks, plastic cardboard, and hot glue.  It is half a meter tall with a triangular base.

Xuan built the trusts out of light material with assistance from one of the other volunteers, Ian Fenn.
Group One has nicknamed their rover ChurroMobile with an arm by the name of Gal-GaBot. ChurroMobile was moving quite successfully by the third week and will have the arm attached very soon.

Featured below is Cameron Fazio, another governor's school student.  In this video he is proving the strength and mobility of their rover by grabbing onto it and having it pull him in a rolling chair throughout the halls of the Autonomy Incubator.

Group Two is also making great progress in the competition.  Their rover goes by the name of Ironbot with an arm named RobotDowneyJr.

According to Group Two member Billy Smith, the easiest part of the process for him thus far was "understanding the project itself and what to do, but ordering the parts and using older technology came as a slight difficulty, but we have managed to do just fine."

Billy Smith, governor's school student, working on part of the base for Group Two's rover.
Ian Fenn attaching the wheels to the flat base of the rover.
The end of the competition is just around the corner and the champion group will be announced soon after evaluation.  Both groups have been working very hard in hopes of winning and eagerly award the upcoming Rover-Off. So, stay tuned!

Monday, July 17, 2017

2017-07-17: Autonomy Incubator Makes Historic OWLETS Flight Over Chesapeake Bay

The Ai's Jim Nielan and Danette Allen were present for CBBT ops
along with Ryan Hammitt, Eddie Adcock, Mark Motter, and Zak Johns.

The OWLETS (Ozone Water-Land Environmental Transition Study) mission officially began with its maiden voyage over the Chesapeake Bay this morning, making the Autonomy Incubator and NASA Langley's earth scientists the first team to ever measure ozone levels directly on the land-water transition. Hive Three, one of our four Hive vehicles, carried an ozone monitor and four CICADA gliders from the Naval Research Library to take meteorological data.

Today's event was only the first of many OWLETS flights, all of which will take off from the third island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT).

In addition to Hive-3 and its suite of sensors, NASA Langley also deployed a weather balloon and a lidar trailer to study atmospheric composition near the land-water transition.

The lidar trailer uses two high-powered lasers to determine
atmospheric composition.

The weather balloon also takes ozone and meteorological data,
but follows wind patterns instead of flying a set route.

Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage as this historic mission continues! Who knows, maybe our social media intern will be out there reporting from the field sometime soon. Until then, check out this video of one of the final practice missions, which we flew right here at NASA Langley:

Friday, July 14, 2017

2017-07-14: Autonomy Incubator Highlighted in Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot's Centennial Address

Flip to minute 3:18:27 of the NASA Langley Centennial Symposium to hear NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot give the Autonomy Incubator a shout-out during his speech!

"And speaking of autonomy," he said, "the researchers here at [NASA] Langley's Autonomy Incubator are developing and testing algorithms and robotic systems that represent a step toward the safe operation of autonomous drones in aerospace." It's always nice to hear we're doing something that can be a source of pride for the American public, especially from the NASA Administrator.