REU Week 2

This week, the other students finally joined me in the lab. I started meeting my coworkers on Sunday night during a welcome dinner. I not only met some of the students in my lab, but also those doing research in the other labs around campus. People were going to research fields like biochemistry, ergonomics, minority health, and many others. Monday morning, we had an orientation meeting before we came into lab. I enjoyed showing some of the other students around. It’s always fun to see how excited people get when you tell them we will be flying drones for the whole summer. Dr. Duncan and some of the other people from the lab gave us an extensive overview of everything done in NIMBUS. They also started telling all of us what projects we would be working on throughout our time here. Since I had arrived a week before everyone else, I had a leg up on a few things. This first week, the other students were to learn ROS tutorials and practice flying drones, which I had done last week. We also were all going to start building our own drones. By the end of Monday, all five of us research students were ready to start working in the lab.

Tuesday morning, while the other students were at an REU session, I came into the lab a little bit earlier to start building my drone. It was nice for me to have a quiet space to work in with the other kids gone. I was able to solder without having to wait my turn at the soldering bench, and also get one-on-one help from Jacob, one of the engineers in the office who could probably tell that I was a novice at soldering. By the time the other students returned from their meeting, I had almost finished my drone. The other students started soldering and screwing on parts as I worked with Adam, a computer science student and apparent drone-flying professional, to get my drone flying. After many rounds of configuration and testing, we attempted to get my drone up in the air. The first attempt ended within seconds, as my drone flopped right on its back. I fixed a few little problems, then we set out to fly once again. This time, my drone took off! The only problem is that it teetered a lot in the air, comparable to a toddler just learning how to walk. This problem perplexed both Adam and me, leading us to try more intensive troubleshooting. At one point, I realized that I, a novice with the drone, would no longer be any help. This problem was not only confusing Adam, but also AJ, who is another resident drone expert. Adam would occasionally pop back into my room and get me to solder a new part on, reconfigure the motors, or help him attempt flight again. But time after time, the drone was still teetering. By Wednesday, we were still trying to solve the problem. Between the REU meetings and helping the other students, I would talk with Adam and try to solve the problem, still with no luck by the end of Wednesday.

That night, I got my mind off of the failed drone attempts with the REU picnic. All of the students in the program and some of the mentors came out for a traditional BBQ picnic. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the NIMBUS lab had the largest number of members come out to our welcome picnic. I asked Carl, one of the students working on his Masters in the lab, why some members of the NIMBUS lab came to the picnic even though they were not directly mentors of us undergraduates. He told me that their lab was extremely close and supportive of each other. I had noticed how helpful and friendly everyone had been before, especially during the first week when I was all alone, but this really showed me the support that can only be found in the NIMBUS lab. After the picnic, I said goodbye to the graduate mentors and Dr. Duncan, then went back to the University Suites to play some volleyball with the other researchers.

Thursday morning, I came into the lab early while the REU students attended another REU meeting. I started practicing my drone flying, and I would take the flying test for the second time. I always become nervous when people watch me fly, so I was nervous to take the test where Siya would be watching me extra carefully. I ended up passing and started learning how to fly the larger drones called the Hummingbirds. I found it amusing how I was given the drone named “Crash” to learn on. Crash wasn’t too difficult to fly though, and I only really struggled on the landing in the first few attempts. After I spent some time working with Crash, AJ helped me try a different flight controller on the drone I built. It finally worked! Friday morning, Adam came in to tell us he figured out how to fix the drone with the original PixHawk flight controller, so now all five of us could have a working drone. I spent the rest of the day Friday practicing with Crash and working on my website for the DREU.

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