Monday, July 25, 2016

2016-07-25: Autonomy Incubator Amazes and Delights in Final Incubator Review

The HOLI GRAILLE team celebrates post-demo.
After months of preparation and coordinated efforts from every member of our lab, the Autonomy Incubator (Ai) presented its most elaborate demo ever last Friday, 22 July 2016. Ai head Danette Allen led an open session beforehand in which she, PI Jim Nielan, and PI Loc Tran all presented on Ai research and fielded questions from an audience of Langley Research Center senior staff. This video by our excellent videography intern Kastan Day demonstrated our outdoor flight capabilities as well.

After nearly two hours of presentations, Danette led the crowd into the flight range to show teh audience what we can do firsthand First on the bill was HOLII GRAILLE, the sim-to-flight human factors/path planning/virtual reality demonstration that showcases the full pipeline of technology for our atmospheric science mission. In true Ai style, it went beautifully, from the gesture recognition all the way through the live flight.

Angelica Garcia explains her VR environment as Meghan Chandarana
demonstrates how to navigate it.

Next came intern Deegan Atha and his computer vision research. Using a webcam mounted to a bench rig (a faux-UAV we use for research), he moved around the flight range and let his algorithm recognize trees, drones, and people in real time.

Look at all those beautiful bounding boxes.

Jim Nielan and Loc Tran led a live demonstration of our GPS-denied obstacle avoidance capabilities. Out of an already stellar lineup, this was the big showstopper of the morning: we had one of our Erevkon UAVs (a powerful all-carbon fiber quadrotor) fly autonomously, drop off a sensor package, fly back to its takeoff point while avoiding another UAV we lowered into its path on a rope, go back and pick up the package, return to its takeoff point again, and land.

Jim Neilan explains the flight path.
The Orevkon, precision landed.
I know: it looks like the UAV juuust missed the package during pick-up, but I have to explain, autonomously landing within millimeters of an inch-wide, raised target is a huge triumph in autonomous flight. Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking is a tough challenge but it's astonishing how small our margin of error has become. This flight was confirmation for our researchers that the methods we're using are feasible and effective.

Finally, intern Jacob Beck wrapped up the morning with a demonstration of his soft gripper and Spider Bot projects. The Spider Bot, as always, was a crowd-pleaser as it skittered across his desk and grabbed a toy ball, but the soft gripper also elicited some murmurs of admiration.

The Spider Bot descends.

Overall, we delivered a complex and innovative demonstration of our multifaceted capabilities on Friday, and we're proud of all of our researchers and interns who logged late nights and early mornings to make it possible. So proud, in fact, that we ran it again this afternoon for the LASER group of young NASA managers!

Jim and Josh Eddy discuss the on-board capabilities of our Orevkon UAV.

Lauren Howell discusses Bezier curves as her flight path generates in the background.

Thank you and congratulations to all our team for their hard work and brilliance!

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