Friday, July 10, 2015

2015-07-09: Autonomy Incubator Welcomes Newport News Mayor McKinley Price

The Autonomy Incubator (AI) received yet another illustrious visitor this week when the mayor of Newport News, Dr. McKinley Price, arrived early Tuesday morning for a tour and a demonstration. Mayor Price was first elected to office in 2010 after a much-acclaimed career in dental surgery; he is currently in his second term as mayor.

The mayor and his guests were treated to the full scope of the AI's research and projects, from the Mars Electric Flyer to the live autonomous UAV demonstration we originally prepared for NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman's visit. Because of the progress we've made on the Mars Flyer's computer vision capabilities, Jim Neilan and Alex Hagiopol were able to take the vehicle right off the display table and use it in Alex's visual odometry demonstration.

Jim explains the Mars Flyer's mission and hardware.

Alex walks the guests through his PTAM algorithm.

During the live UAV demo, the mayor elected to step into the flight range and view the action up close. The package to be delivered this time was not a 3D printed banana, but a container of dental floss bearing the AI logo—a nod to Mayor Price's career as a dentist. The first run through the tree-dodging course was a little difficult—the UAV didn't quite dodge that little tree in the middle — but the team calmly reset as Danette explained what had happened and the second run went smoothly.

The second time through, the UAV gave that same tree a comically wide berth. Machine learning!

Gil #DancesWithDrones for the mayor.

After the package had been delivered and the drones had been danced with, the mayor ducked back through the net to get a demonstration of Meghan Chandarana's gesture recognition software, which she used to initiate Javier Navarro's and Bilal Mehdi's coordinated trajectories flight demo. She used hand motions, a Leap MotionTM sensor and her own computer interface to demonstrate how an operator can use gestures to plan the UAVs' path in sequence (first spiral up, then circle, in this case). Then, she flicked her hand up and all four drones rose into the air to do their routine.

Meghan shows off how intuitive gesture-based controls are.

Within a few seconds of take off, one of the UAVs veered off course and triggered the vehicles' safety stop, which caused them to land. It was an excellent chance for Javier to explain the safety features that the AI builds into all of its autonomous systems while the rest of the team reset the demo behind him.  

Javier gives a compelling talk on autonomous safety behaviors.

Finally, the "demo demon" (as Meghan says) left the AI for good, and the coordinated flight demonstration successfully took to the air, much to the amusement of Mayor Price.

"I have one of these [UAVs] at home that I fly in the backyard," he said. "Now I know where to come for flying lessons."

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