Friday, June 12, 2015

2015-06-12: Autonomy Incubator Sets In-Lab Autonomous Flight Record for Multiple UAVs

Yesterday, the intrepid Autonomy Incubator (AI) team comprised of student interns Javier Puig Navarro, Bilal Mehdi, and Gil Montague dared to fly where others fear to tread.  They pushed the limits of both technology and ingenuity, went toe-to-toe with the impossible, and pulled off some of the most white-knuckle science the AI has demonstrated to date.  Yesterday afternoon, at 4:38 PM, this band of robotics renegades flew five—FIVE— UAVs simultaneously, using a tracking system and a few well-written trajectory collaboration algorithms to guide them up into a hover and back down again.  

At first, the dream of pulling off such an ambitious flight seemed dogged with snags and hang-ups: from a bad prop on one of the vehicles to troubles calibrating the UAVs' positions, the lead-up to takeoff took hours.  Here's Bilal holding a UAV in the flight operational area, testing different pitches, while Javier works on the computer out of frame.  

But then, finally, the epic moment arrived and all five robots ascended, hovered in place for a while, and then gracefully descended in coordinated flight.

Why, you ask, was this flight so important? We've been flying solo UAVs for years; surely a few extra is nothing to write home about. Actually, coordinated flight is one of the frontiers of UAV applications, and it becomes exponentially more complicated as more vehicles join in.  If autonomous vehicles, especially UAVs, can be managed reliably in groups, the benefits to science as a whole would be astonishing. Think of a volcano too dangerous to approach, or a remote spot in the Amazon inaccessible by plane— with a team of collaborative vehicles in the air, scientists will be able to employ multiple sensors at once, perform atmospheric testing at multiple altitudes at the same time, even replace research balloons with a method that both provides more data for longer and doesn't generate waste.  And these are just some of the applications we are targeting today; who knows what kind of research will become possible tomorrow using coordinated fleets of UAVs?

No comments:

Post a Comment