Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015-10-28: Autonomy Incubator Demonstrates Package Delivery

Here at the Autonomy Incubator, we're researching ways to safely deliver packages using small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Our designs include vehicle components to carefully deliver a package, using computer vision to detect and classify objects, obstacle avoidance, and programs such as our "Follow Me" behavior

The commercial applications for this technology are vast, and provide potential solutions to missions dangerous for humans, such as delivering humanitarian aid or fighting forest fires. However, most widely known is the potential this technology holds for future commercial package delivery by companies. In fact, Flirtey, an Australian commercial delivery service that uses UAVs, stopped by the Autonomy Incubator on Monday to learn more about the work our team is currently doing.

As companies, and NASA, look towards the future of package delivery, safety is a prime concern. Here at the Autonomy Incubator, we're solving these concerns by developing programs for obstacle avoidance and navigation in data-deprived environments. Although known paths and locations will likely be present in a majority of the areas that we would be delivering to on Earth, we will require the capacity to navigate without GPS as a back-up if the signal is lost, as well as for exploratory missions in space and on planets where GPS is not available

A mechanical engineer at the Autonomy Incubator, Joe Lemanski, recently designed a mechanism we have used to carry and release a package from a UAV. As said by Dr. Loc Tran, with this mechanism, "we fully employ the use of gravity"; in other words, we're safely dropping off the package on a designated landing spot.

Danette looks on as visitors hold and discuss the drop mechanism developed by Joe Lemanski.

Meanwhile, Dr. Loc Tran and our fall intern Deegan Atha have been working on projects within the realm of computer vision. At present, we are leveraging computer vision as a means to detect obstacles and to classify objects, such as a destination point for a package delivery.

Representatives from Flirtey watch as Ben Kelley demonstrates safe obstacle avoidance with UAVs.

The "Follow Me" behavior, created by our software architect Ben Kelley, is still relatively new. As we move past these early stages of development, we'll be looking into the possibility of using this behavior with a fleet of vehicles. In a manner similar to a paperboy and the basket on his bike that he reaches into for a paper, the small UAVs could go to and from a moving rover to pick up packages and deliver them to their destinations. As the rover moves, the UAV will employ the "Follow Me" behavior to catch up with the rover, pick up another package, deliver the package, and then employ the "Follow Me" behavior again to repeat the cycle. 

Jim Neilan tests the UAV package delivery mechanism with Herbie, our rover.

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