[Tarik and Kemal] have an objective in mind: to drop a home-made autonomous glider from a high-altitude balloon and safely return it to home. To motivate them, [Tarik] has decided not to cut his hair until they reach 18,000 feet. Given the ambition of their project, it isn’t surprising that his hair is getting rather long now.
Researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University have developed a method for autonomous drone scanning and measurement of terrains, allowing drones to independently navigate themselves over excavation grounds. The only human input is a starting location and the desired cliff face for scanning.
For researchers studying quarries, capturing data about gravel, walls, and other natural and man-made formations is important for understanding the properties of the terrain. Controlling the drones can be expensive though, since there’s considerable skill involved in manually flying the drone and keeping its camera steady and perpendicular to the wall it is capturing.
The process designed is a Gaussian model that predicts the wind encountered near the wall, estimating the strength based on the inputs it receives as it moves. It uses both nonlinear model predictive control (NMPC) and a PID controller in its feedback control system, which calculate the values to send to the drone’s motor controller. A long short-term memory (LSTM) model is used for calculating the predictions. It’s been successfully tested in a chalk quarry in Denmark and will continue to be tested as its algorithms are improved.
Getting a drone to hover and move between GPS waypoints is easy enough, but once they need to maneuver around obstacles it starts getting tricky. Research like this will be invaluable for developing systems that help drones navigate in areas where their human operators can’t reach.
[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]
It is said that Benjamin Franklin, while watching the first manned flight of a hot air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris in 1783, responded when questioned as to the practical value of such a thing, “Of what practical use is a new-born baby?” Dr. Franklin certainly had a knack for getting to the heart of an issue.
Much the same can be said for Spot, the extremely videogenic dog-like robot that Boston Dynamics has been teasing for years. It appears that the wait for a production version of the robot is at least partially over, and that Spot (once known as Spot Mini) will soon be available for purchase by “select partners” who “have a compelling use case or a development team that [Boston Dynamics] believe can do something really interesting with the robot,” according to VP of business development Michael Perry.
The qualification of potential purchasers will certainly limit the pool of early adopters, as will the price tag, which is said to be as much as a new car – and a nice one. So it’s not likely that one will show up in a YouTube teardown video soon, so until the day that Dave Jones manages to find one in his magic Australian dumpster, we’ll have to entertain ourselves by trying to answer a simple question: Of what practical use is a robotic dog?
Sure, mowing the lawn is a hassle. No one really wants to spend their time and money growing a crop that doesn’t produce food, but we do it anyway. If you’re taking care of a quarter acre in the suburbs it’s not that much of a time sink, but if you’re taking care of as much grass as [Roby], you’d probably build something similar to his autonomous skid-steer mower, too.
This thing isn’t a normal push mower outfitted with some random electronics, either. This is a serious mower that is essentially a tractor with blades attached to it. Since it’s a skid steer, it turns by means of two handles that control the speed of the left or right drive wheels. Fabricating up some servo linkages to attach them to specialized servos takes care of the steering portion, and the brain is ArduPilot hooked up to a host of radios, GPS, and a compass to allow it to drive all around the runways at the airport without interfering with any aircraft.
This is a serious build and goes into a lot of detail about how servos and linkages should behave, how all the software works, and the issues of actually mounting everything to the mower. The entire project is open source too, so even if you don’t have a whole airport runway to mow you might be able to find something in there to help with your little patch of grass.
Thanks to [Vincent] for the tip!
There’s nothing quite like the sight of a plastic box merrily sailing its way around a lake to symbolise how easy it is to get started in autonomous robotics. This isn’t a project we’re writing about because of technical excellence, but purely because watching an autonomous plastic box navigate a lake by itself is surprisingly compelling viewing. The reason that [rctestflight] built the vessel was to test out the capabilities of ArduRover. ArduRover is, of course, a flavour of the extremely popular open source ArduPilot, and in this case is running on a Pixhawk.
The hardware itself is deliberately as simple as possible: two small motors with RC car ESCs, a GPS, some power management and a telemetry module are all it takes. The telemetry module allows the course/mission to be updated on the fly, as well as sending diagnostic data back home. Initially, this setup performed poorly; low GPS accuracy combined with a high frequency control loop piloting a device with little inertia lead to a very erratic path. But after applying some filtering to the GPS this improved significantly.
Despite the simplicity of the setup, it wasn’t immune to flaws. Seaweed in the prop was a cause of some stressful viewing, not to mention the lack of power required to sail against the wind. After these problems caused the boat to drift off course past a nearby pontoon, public sightings ranged from an illegal police drone to a dog with lights on its head.
If you want to use your autonomous boat for other purposes than scaring the public, we’ve written about vessels that have been used to map the depth of the sea bed, track aircraft, and even cross the Atlantic.
On yet another one of those long, pointless road trips that seemed to punctuate my life starting when I got my license, I was plying the roads somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania with a friend. He told me that on long trips he’d often relieve the boredom by finding another car from the same state as his destination, and then just follow it. I wasn’t sure then how staring at the same car, hour after hour, mile after mile, would do anything but increase the boredom while making you look sort of creepy, but it seemed to work for him.
What works for college kids in cars also works for long-haul truckers, and the concept of a convoy has long been a fact of life on the road and a part of popular culture. Hardly a trip on the US Interstate goes by without seeing a least two truckers traveling in close formation, partly for companionship and mutual support but also for economic reasons. And now technology is poised to take convoying to the next level, as platooning becomes yet another way to automate the freight.
Before I got a license and a car, getting to and from high school was an ordeal. The hour-long bus ride was awful, as one would expect when sixty adolescents are crammed together with minimal supervision. Avoiding the realities going on around me was a constant chore, aided by frequent mental excursions. One such wandering led me to the conclusion that we high schoolers were nothing but cargo on a delivery truck designed for people. That was a cheery fact to face at the beginning of a school day.
What’s true for a bus full of students is equally true for every city bus, trolley, subway, or long-haul motorcoach you see. People can be freight just as much as pallets of groceries in a semi or a bunch of smiling boxes and envelopes in a brown panel truck. And the same economic factors that we’ve been insisting will make it far more likely that autonomous vehicles will penetrate the freight delivery market before we see self-driving passenger vehicles are at work with people moving. This time on Automate the Freight: what happens when the freight is people?