Our work on prescribed fire ignition with UAVs (or “Fighting fire with fire-starting drones“) was listed by gizmag.com as one of the top 10 ideas that moved flying robots forward in 2015! Congrats to the Nimbus team!
Recently there have been a number of stories on our UAV that can ignite prescribed burns, including stories on slate, popular science, fire engineering, discovery, Washington Times, inverse, and others. The video that shows our system is all based on indoor flights, but we are excited to announce that we just got final approval from the FAA in the form of a COA to conduct outdoor trials with our partners that regularly use prescribed burns for land management. So check back in the spring to see the results of the outdoor trials.
At the NIMBUS Lab we have been working for several years now on developing safe micro-UAS based systems to not just observe but also to actuate close to the environment. The latest chapter in this effort consists of a system to support control fire burns from the air.
UNL News just published a short story on it.
You can read more about the need for such fires and new tools at our brief tech report (draft version).
And you can see them in action in this short video.
The Science Olympiad National Tournament was held here, in Lincoln, Nebraska, last Saturday. We had the opportunity to help in the closing ceremonies by flying the list of awards in to the presenters. One of the event staff captured a behind the scenes view of the awards coming in via an Ascending Technologies Hummingbird quadcopter. There were teams from 49 states and Japan at the ceremony, which made for a full house. The video and pictures from the event are down below.
Our work on Aerial Water Sampling has just been published in the Journal of Field Robotics. Check it out:
We have some newer results relating to in-situ water sensing and sampling at a range of depths that we hope to get published soon, but if you are curious feel free to send us an email.
Last year we collaborated with the international dance company STREB (really they are “Extreme Action Heros,” not dancers) to put on a workshop with dancers and robotics students at UNL. There is a nice video giving an overview of the collaboration here:
A couple of days ago we worked with a Lincoln High School dance class to teach them how technology and dance can interact. We did this by teaching them about how UAVs fly (Najeeb did an excellent job), showing them a dance with a UAV, and then giving them small flying ferries to try to create their own dance with. It was a short class, but still very rewarding to see how quickly the students took to creating new ways to interact with the flying vehicles. Here are a few pictures from the day.
We recently had a visit from the Omaha Ch. 3 news team. We spent a couple of hours with them describing the work we do in the Nimbus Lab and you can find their report here:
On Sunday, February 15th the Nimbus Lab was involved in Sunday with a Scientist Day at the University of Nebraska Morrill Hall State Museum. During this event we presented some of the research conducted in our lab to the public.
We demonstrated our water sampling hexacopter, and sampled water from a small container (2x4x4) feet, and demonstrated both autonomous and human controlled flight and operation. This water sampling demonstration attracted many people as well as queries from children with interesting questions, like how much load can one of these vehicles carry and still operate (a question asked by an 8 year old). Besides showing the value of such a UAV in both the field of Water Ecology and surface water analysis, we were also able to talk about the safety involved in operating such systems. People were able to feel the power of such machines by noticing the air dynamics created by a relatively small robot.
Another thing we tried to help young kids understand is how to control a UAV. People were allowed to control a UAV in a constrained environment. We tethered a UAV to limit its motion in all dimensions of a 3D space, and then we handed the control to kids. The person then starts applying thrust, pitch, roll or yaw and observes the impact the control has on the UAV. This helps someone with no prior experience with UAVs understand both the dynamics of how a UAV operates and the impact of each parameter on the other, in a very safe and controlled environment. It also helped young observers notice the means of communication between a human and a robot (in this case via a hand heled controller).
Another demonstration presented during the event was streaming live video feeds. Using a done equipped with both a camera and a wifi router, and typical hand held devices (iPad-mini) and a regular TV, we were able to demonstrate both controlling a UAV and capturing live video feed and relaying it to the TV set. While flying at a safe distance from the observers, we were still able to display their faces on the TV screen. At first young children were excited to see themselves on a TV, but then they started wondering how is all this happening, we were successful in triggering their intellectual curiosity. Children started experimenting to figure out where the camera was and how was it transmitting these pictures.
Learning the power of air dynamics can never start too early. So one of the experiments kids (young future pilots) were given an opportunity to perform was creating their own flying planes, and observing how well the wind can fly them. We had a couple of fans creating a wind stream, then had the children cut paper sheets to create wind gliding shapes (paper copters). Then they released them in the wind stream and they observed how high they could reach. This helped introduce the power of wind lift, and made it easier for the young ones to understand how the rest of the demonstrations were operating.
After the kids were able to have hands on experience with things, more and more questions started coming in. And more and more interests started showing up. As for us, the more we presented to the public, the more we realized people are starting to know more about UAVs, and want to figure out how things work. I actually had a few high school students ask me some very interesting questions regarding how to connect different parts of a UAV. It turned out they were actually attempting to build their own UAV, and wanted to figure out how to connect some electronic components.
Working with UAVs today is similar to working with PCs back in the early 90s. It may sound intimidating for some but within a few years (a blink of an eye) everyone will be familiar with terms like IMU, localization, PID controller, etc., when each person will have a UAV at home to take out the trash. But before that can become a reality, safety is still a concern, and that is another area of research our lab is investing in and investigating.
We also attracted new agencies, by having new technology flying besides ancient fossils.
MIT Technology Review included the NIMBUS Lab’s “Co-Aerial Ecologist” water sampling drone in a new article highlighting applications of robotic aerial ex-situ analysis (extracting samples to analyze them in the lab) to aqueous domains. The article also identifies further applications for water sampling from UAVs, including detecting species using environmental DNA (“eDNA”) or monitoring oil spills. The article highlights the efforts of the NIMBUS Lab’s efforts to extend UAVs to operations that fly close to the environment. As Dr. Carrick Detweiler, one of the Primary Investigators in the NIMBUS lab and an MIT alum says, “The next generation of vehicles five to 10 years from now will be capable of getting really close to the environment”.
In a separate article for UNL Research Annual Report says “Water Slurping Drones Have Broad Potential.” The word ‘slurping‘ implies pulling but our system pushes water using a submerged pump. The photo to the right features the professors who guide the NIMBUS lab, Dr. Sebastian Elbaum (right) and Dr. Carrick Detweiler (left). Notice in the photo how the water directly below the vehicle has almost no ripples! Moving air from the UAV’s propellers exerts a force on the water surface, so you can think of the UAV as sitting on the water cushioned by a column of compressed air!
See the ex-situ sampling, water slurping, co-aerial ecologist UAV in action in this video:
Credit: Images courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln | Craig Chandler