Friday, July 29, 2016

2016-29-16: Autonomy Incubator Takes Tree-Dodging Into The Wild

Okay, so it's not technically tree-dodging now that we're dodging a 20-foot pole, but the concept remains the same: we're using computer vision and lidar to avoid obstacles in real time. And we're really, really good at it.

PIs Loc Tran, Ben Kelley, Jim Neilan, and Kyle McQuarry went to the Back 40 this morning with the goal of testing this part of the pipeline, to roaring success. The UAV flew back and forth over a dozen times, deftly avoiding the pole in the middle of its flight path without a single failure.

The transition to the outdoors is especially exciting when you consider that there's no map and no fiducials involved here, which means that the algorithm has no outside assistance in doing its job and nothing shining bright to look for. There is no extra data we could feed it if it starts to fail. Once that UAV is in the air and on a collision course with the pole, it has to use its autonomous capabilities to detect the obstacle and replan its flight path mid-flight. And it does. It succeeds every time, in a predictable and safe manner.

The next challenge, now that we've conquered stationary obstacles, will be the ultimate in collision avoidance and a highlight of our upcoming outdoor demo: detecting and avoiding another UAV that enters the airspace. Imagine this, but outside and thirty feet in the air:

Congratulations to Jim, Kyle, Ben, and Loc on an amazing end to a packed week!

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