Thursday, July 12, 2018

2018-07-12: Autonomy Incubator Welcomes NAVAIR

On Wednesday, a few members of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) from the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) visited the Autonomy Incubator to take a tour and learn about what we do at the Autonomy Incubator.

Our five visitors included Dr. Joe Schaff, Johann Soto, Maria Thorpe, Steve Kracinovich, and Barbette Ivery.

As most of our visits begin, Danette Allen, head of the Ai, introduced them to our main research, which included our accomplishments and goals for the future.  Each of them came ready with plenty of questions, especially Johann Soto.

Johann Soto is working to receive his Master's degree in artificial intelligence,
and was intrigued to learn what schools were represented throughout our
community of interns at the Ai.

"I'm like a kid in a candy shop," he told Danette.  "Just wait until we get inside," she responded.

Danette introducing the first demo.

Upon entering the main doors of the fly zone, Danette walked them through each of the four demos.  The first stop was to Javier Puig-Navarro and Meghan Chandarana, who discussed and showcased their work with a wire maze.

They flew two crazyflie drones through the maze to test "a path planning algorithm for multiple vehicles," as Javier described.  They "utilized silhouette information of the neighboring obstacles to compute trajectories that maintain a safe distance between all obstacles in the environment."

This is Javier's fifth year as an Ai intern and Meghan's fourth.

Javier placing the two crazyflie drones in their starting place.

Next, Loc Tran introduced them to how we can use a camera-equipped quadrotor to classify objects in search and rescue missions.  The multi rotor helicopter can help find a lost hiker, for example, due to algorithms that were built in order to recognize objects in the surrounding environment.  It can detect people (including four of our NAVAIR visitors) and, of course, trees as well.

Loc Tran researches object classification at the Ai.

Spotted: four members of NAVAIR

Danette and Derek Goddeau then introduced them to the robotic arm we received from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Derek explained how the robot will go through a search, where it scans for a marker printed on the truss, which then tells it where it is.  "It will then generate a plan so it can safely grasp the truss, pick it up, and then generate another plan for the final placement location."  Soon after, it will go back to the start, continuing to generate random placement locations as it runs.

"There is a certain distance that we require it to meet, so that it's safe.  If it doesn't succeed, then it will start all over and generate new plans," he explained.

"Like a human system, if it doesn't work the first time we don't just walk away...
we try again! That's exactly what wedo with this kind of system," Danette told
our visitors.

Derek has been a part of the Ai for a year now.

Kastan Day is a third-year intern at the Ai, and he also explained his work to our visitors.

He spent last summer creating barcode-like fiducials that "calculate where objects are in space."  This summer, however, his goal is to replace the barcodes with 3D cameras.

He discussed how he analyzes the point clouds created by these 3D cameras to find a truss and pick it up with the robotic arm that Derek showcased.  Kastan explained how "both the barcodes and the point clouds serve the same purpose, but we want to avoid the parasitic mass of sending fiducial markers into space. Using 3D cameras allows us to find the objects based on their intrinsic shape instead of relying on extra barcode markers."

Kastan Day presenting the last demo on point cloud alignment.

Displayed on the top screen are the point clouds created by the
3D cameras.

Unfortunately, this was actually the last tour that will ever be given in the Ai building.  Next week, the team will be moving to a different site across NASA Langley.  It is a scary change, but we are all looking forward to having something new!

The Final Tour: Autonomy Incubator ft. NAVAIR

Thank you to our friends at NAVAIR for coming to learn about our work and allowing us to end our time in this building on such a good note!

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