Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015-06-25: Autonomy Incubator Tests Visual Odometry on Mars Flyer

Today, Autonomy Incubator (AI) student intern Alex Hagiopol and UAV pilot Zak Johns conducted the first tests ever of the visual odometry algorithms onboard the Mars Flyer. The test, and the ones to follow it, are an exciting extension of Alex's visual odometry research, which had previously been limited to him manually moving a camera over a scene of features.  The ultimate goal of integrating visual odometry onto the Mars Flyer is to create a reliable system of navigation for the vehicle in the GPS-denied environment of Mars.

The Mars Flyer is unique for a number of reasons, but today's tests highlighted just how packed with technology this tiny craft is— for example, the ODROIDTM computer mounted to the wing has eight cores. For reference, the average laptop has four. It can collect information straight from the ground-facing webcam, then run all of the visual odometry calculations onboard, without even turning its fan on. All this from a computer smaller and lighter than a chocolate bar.

"I've even been developing on this thing," said Alex as he slid the ODROID into its custom 3D-printed mount on the Mars Flyer. "It's amazing."

The components stay in place with Velcro in addition to the plastic mounts.

Once all the Mars Flyer's components were in place and sending data to Alex's desktop, Zak got it situated for takeoff while Alex scattered some of his special feature-rich mats (designed to ensure that the visual odometry algorithms have something to pick up on) around the operational flight area.

After takeoff, Zak flew the Mars Flyer back and forth high while Alex manned the desktop and watched the information stream in. Here, Alex points out where the visual odometry algorithm is marking features on the video feed, as data points flood into the terminals in the background.

The first flight test was a success but Alex still has plenty of work ahead of him. Now, he says, he'll spend the next few days getting ready to flight test a different visual odometry algorithm.

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