Friday, July 24, 2015

2015-07-24: Autonomy Incubator Demos for Aerospace Safety Advisory Board

AI Head Dr. Danette Allen and John Foggia greet the panel.

The Autonomy Incubator (AI) was honored to be asked to present for the NASA Aviation Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) yesterday, the latest demonstration in a summer's worth of high-profile guests to Building 1222.  In accordance with ASAP's mission, the AI decided to forgo its usual demo in favor of a more concentrated program that focused on the safety stops and measures engineered into everything we do.

When the ASAP contingent arrived, they were greeted at the door by AI Head Dr. Danette Allen and AI member John Foggia, our resident flight safety official.  John gave them a thorough safety briefing once everyone gathered in the main room—stay back from the net while UAVs are in the air, wear safety glasses if you enter the flight range, fire exits are behind you if anything bursts into flames—before Danette took over to explain the AI's mission and research.

Danette fields questions about the AI's stable of UAVs.

Once our guests were acquainted with the Autonomy Incubator and the amazing flying robots therein, John took over again to introduce the day's exercises. We began with an updated version of #DancesWithDrones led by interns Josh Eddy and Gil Montague. Although it's a familiar joke around here, the title elicited a hearty chuckle from the crowd.

"It's like baseball, keep your eye on the ball. We don't want anyone catching a foul ball today." -John, on UAV demo safety

Gil began the AI's signature demo as usual, explaining how the UAV senses his presence and avoids him as he sidestepped in and out of the vehicle's path. Then, Josh donned his own fiducial-dotted helmet and joined Gil in the GPS-emulation area, where they both jumped in and out of the UAV's planned flight path as it replanned around them in real time.  Below, you can see the live video of the obstacle avoidance program calculating new routes every time Gil or Josh (the two red circles) moved.

The AI's two-man theater troupe takes the stage once again.

Then, intern Javier Puig Navarro stepped up to the net to introduce his and Bilal Mehdi's multiagent coordinated flight demo. In this scenario, he explained, a team of scientists has programmed four UAVs to spiral around and collect atmospheric samples, but several unexpected things happen to excite the vehicles' safety stops.

Javier elaborates that whenever the UAVs encounter an unsafe condition, they land.

Taking the proverbial baton from Javier, intern Meghan Chandarana explained how her gesture recognition program had been integrated into the vehicles' path-following program to allow anyone to control multi-vehicle teams of UAVs. With an upward flick of her hand, the quadrotors rose into the air.

Meghan readies for takeoff.

The UAVs started ascending in sync and began their atmospheric sample-collecting spiral path, but—what's this? A NASA employee didn't know he'd been replaced as a sample collector! He's right in the middle of the vehicles' spiraling path!

He's so confused, he's even trying to take air samples with a multimeter.

The UAVs stopped and hovered in place until Bilal shooed Gil out of the arena, when they resumed flying. Disgruntled at his sudden lack of employment, Gil snatched one of the drones out of the air and sprinted away with it out of the GPS-emulation area. The remaining three drones landed upon losing contact with their team member that had exceeded the geocontainment boundary, much to the awe of the ASAP spectators.

Gil absconds with a UAV.

This demo was a fun challenge to meet, because we got the chance to showcase all of the hard work that we put into safety here. It was a chance to take the things that usually never see daylight and put them in a demonstration, just to drive home how safely autonomous machines and humans can interact. We're excited that ASAP is interested in UAV safety, because we are too.

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