Tuesday, August 14, 2018

2018-08-14: Autonomy Incubator Welcomes Three MIT Students

Throughout this past week, the Autonomy Incubator has had the pleasure of working with three graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Katherine Liu, Kyel Ok, and Yulun Tian each arrived at NASA Langley ready to learn and progress with their studies.

Yulun, Kyel, Katherine, Loc Tran, and Chester Dolph gather around the
computer to discuss the next flight test.

Their main initiative throughout their time here was to be able to test-fly drones as part of search and rescue research.  On Monday, they were flying inside B1230, but they quickly transitioned to a forested area within NASA Langley's campus for the rest of the week.  They set up a four by four meter "box" outside, inside which the drone(s) takes off.  It then surveys the area using onboard LIDAR.

The drone has an optimization algorithm in order to search the area in the most efficient way possible.  It is autonomous, however, you are able to tell where it is going from a green arrow on the computer screen that points in the direction of travel.  You can also tell which way it is facing.  Katherine worked on the computer side, using a two-way radio to communicate with the pilot, Brian Duvall, who could use the switch controller if something were to go wrong.  Her ability to communicate this was critical because we could then easily get out of the drone's pathway, and I didn't have try to put up a disastrous fight with a Canon camera in hand.

Kyel working on one of the drones.

The crew spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday outside in the wooded area, test-flying all three drones - sometimes solo, sometimes together.  Each drone made its own map of the area to assure where it is in space and how to find its way through the trees.

The team also tested multi-vehicle path sharing, which proved fairly successful.  The drones communicated well with each other and were able to search in a way that kept them from running into each other.  We had over fifty successful flights outside!

Katherine, Kyel, and Yulun were only here through Friday; however, they are coming back in October for a second time.  We look forward to seeing them again!

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