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REU Experiences

Bye Everyone!

My final week! This summer has been such an amazing experience for me. I want to say, for anyone in Nimbus who reads my posts, thank you all so much for an amazing summer. Everyone in the lab was so patient and willing to help me. From Ajay being the all-knowing mastermind, to Pedro who could always make me giggle, to Liam who was an honorary REU member, I had the best people to surround me while I worked on my projects. Adam (commander P-Rad) showed me that I am, in fact, as wimpy as I thought when he would let me tag along with him in the field. Siya showed me that I can me a woman in Computer Science and stand my ground, which I was never really good at before. Jean-Paul taught me the importance of patience when it comes to computers, and that accidentally pressing the space bar on the Vicon machine is the first thing I should check when troubleshooting. Carl showed me that you can simultaneously have a life and be a grad student, contrary to popular belief. Even though I only knew him for three months here, I know he will be a life long friend. Everyone in the lab taught me lessons that I will bring with me through the rest of my school and life. It was an amazing summer and I want to thank all of them for being there.

This week I started my trials! I actually had my first one of Saturday. It was a disaster. I was so nervous that I messed it up, crashed, and had to cancel the study in the middle. It’s ok though. Ajay and Carl assured me that these things happen to the best of us. I was still very embarrassed. Monday, I was stood up by one of my participants. I didn’t really mind because I was so nervous from my fail on Saturday, that I didn’t want to try again. But my afternoon participant came in and the study went fine! We had a little hiccup on the first flight, but Ajay was my backup pilot, so he calmed me down and helped me continue the study. He also noticed a little mistake that was making my drone not fly exactly how it should, so he helped me fix that. On Tuesday, I had my first trial bright and early at 9:00am. Carl came in and was my backup pilot (even though he was the backup pilot on Saturday when it failed epically) and the trial went very smooth. Carl didn’t even need to take control. I was feeling much better about the trial after having one perfect run.

My second trial of the day tested my confidence, patience, and social skills. The participant was extremely chatty to say the least. Many people in the lab made sure I was ok after the experience, as I was quite overwhelmed. It will someday make for a funny story. Wednesday, I didn’t have any participants coming in. This allowed me to get all the data onto the spreadsheet and work on getting the videos on the hard drive. We had a meeting at 12:30 – our normal time – to practice giving our poster presentations.

Thursday, I took time in the morning to finish up packing and pick up my dad from the airport. It was a nice time for me to think back at my summer and appreciate this opportunity. I want to thank anyone who is reading my blogs for my summer. If you are interested enough to get to this point, I’m positive you have played a role in my amazing time here in some way. It makes me sad that I will probably not see many of the people I have met here in the future. For those that I will see again, just know that when we meet again I will come back even more kick-ass than before!

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REU Experiences

Week 9

This week, I looked forward to collecting data for the experiment I would be finishing up. I was able to work Monday and Tuesday to finalize the room configuration and the code for the drones. I struggled a lot with how the Vicon was set up in the room. Since the trial hasn’t been run since 2016, all the camera angles have changed. This meant that there were spots on the path that the UAV wouldn’t be seen, causing a crash. I had a few crashes and even had to fix a motor, which was really a bummer.

Wednesday, we had a lab meeting followed by a meeting with Dr. Detweiler about how to write and publish an academic paper. The lab meeting was fun because Carl showed a video of some cool drone crashes and we saw pictures from Amy, Jason, and other’s trip to Colorado. Dr. Detweiler’s talk was interesting as well because I have never learned about publishing papers.

By Thursday, I had my experiment running very well. It still wasn’t perfect, and I was still dreading having to backup pilot when a drone is right next to someone’s face, but I was happy to have pulled it all together. I practiced a few times Friday to get the whole experiment down, then I was ready to start! Friday night, a few people from the lab are going out to celebrate Carl’s last week. He is moving to UVA to work in the lab with Dr. Elbaum. I have to come in Saturday to run a few participants, which will be fun.

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REU Experiences

Week 8

I was very excited to start setting up my materials to start the study that I would be finishing up for Dr. Duncan. I started with finding all of the old documents- they haven’t run this study since 2016, so it had been a while- and talking to Alisha about how I would be running it. I decided to put my work with the Flame wheels on hold for now so that I could get comfortable with this study. There were a lot of little things for me to do, such as set up two more Vicon cameras and find old footage for me to watch. I enjoyed completing these little tasks. I had been in such a rut, it was nice to feel like I had finished something. I particularly enjoyed walking around campus to put up my flyers. The flyers had information about the study and how people could contact me to participate. By hanging these up, I got to explore a lot of the campus that I hadn’t seen before. It really is nice-looking here. As much as I love going to school in a big city like Atlanta, it was nice to see lots of greenery and not hear police sirens.

The week consisted of me just playing around with the scripts and trying to get the study to run the way I want it to. On Thursday, Najeeb helped me a lot by lending me one of his drones that would be compatible with MIT-asctec, which was used in the study. I was able to meet with Dr. Duncan on Friday to ask a few questions.

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REU Experiences Uncategorized

Week 7

Sadly, this week was a short one for me. I was only able to get into lab Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday morning, I took off for Florida to celebrate my Grandmother’s 80th birthday. Although I am sad to not be in lab, it has been nice to see my family again, as I haven’t seen them since I first came. I’m particularly happy to see my sister again. She spent the last semester in New Zealand, and I haven’t seen her since she traveled there in January.
My Monday was filled with my three projects (Flame wheel, MATLAB, and my poster). I didn’t progress very far with my Flame-wheels since it is my most difficult project. As for MATLAB and the poster, though, I was able to finish them up by Monday afternoon. I also took some time to read some papers for my literature review paper. By Tuesday, Ajay was able to help me again with the Flame wheel things. I had a hard time understanding it all the first time, so he walked me through the process again. Now, I was able to understand exactly what I was looking for when I searched through the code and what all I need to do to finish this project.
Wednesday, I was able to go out to the field. Although this meant I would miss the meeting with Dr. Bradley, I had a great time watching the digging team try out their mechanism as well as film some footage for them. I’ve decided that I really liked going to the field, despite the heat, so that I can really see the things we do in action. The drones they have been using are the ones that we built my first week here, so I loved watching my little project in action. I got back and kept trucking away on my Flame Wheel project.
To keep myself occupied on the plane to Florida, I downloaded a few papers to read for my Literature Review.

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REU Experiences

Week 6

I came into the office on Monday to continue the same work as before. Andrew and I kept tinkering with little things that we hoped would fix the Crazyflie’s flight pattern. Sadly, nothing was working. We called in Dr. Elbaum and Dr. Bradley to give us their thoughts. They both agreed with our hypothesis that the controller may be causing the problem. Tuesday morning, we started attempting to change the constants on the controller with some hope to make a difference. Still no luck. We had a meeting with Dr. Duncan to discuss a literature review assignment that we would be working on. She also asked us to give an update on our projects. When Andrew and I told her we were going into controller territory, she said that my work was done! I was finally done with the Crazyflies!

I was so excited to start working on a new project: integrating the Flamewheels that we built into ROS. Although this project seemed a little over my head, it was nice to know that I’m having a fresh start on something. I would also start preforming subject tests soon, which I was very excited about as well. Wednesday was the 4th of July, so we didn’t come into the lab. On Tuesday night, a few friends and I attended a firework show, which was really fun. On the 4th, I planned to go to the lake with friends, but ended up taking advantage of my off day to catch up on sleep.

Coming back to work on Thursday, I had a new sense of hope. I was no longer in the rut of the Crazyflies. I came in and started working on my new project, as well as formatting my poster for the presentation at the end of the year. This week, Dr. Elbaum gave us a lesson on data organization and analysis. This was interesting to me since I haven’t had to do much data analysis so far. We were all assigned different software to organize data with. I was given MATLAB, since it was something I’ve never used. I was excited to learn about MATLAB since all of my friends in engineering use it all the time. By Friday, I had such a long list of tasks to do that I was busy all day. Between my project with the Flame wheels, my poser draft, and my MATLAB assignment, I had my hands full for the next few days.

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REU Experiences

Week 5

The beginning of this week was very similar to how my weeks have gone so far. I kept working with the Crazyflie drones. Andrew and I tried moving it to another room with Vicon set up but couldn’t get the Vicon system to work connect properly. Monday and Tuesday were filled with attempts to correctly connect as we have been able to with the Vicon system in the large cage. As per weekly tradition, Tuesday night we all went to trivia night. I really enjoyed it because it was a theme night and all the questions were about one of my favorite TV shows. It was also my birthday, so we celebrated that and our third-place win with cake at the end.

Wednesday, I did something different. I came into the lab a little bit earlier to head out with Adam and Mark to the field. This meant that we drove around 30 minutes away from the lab to an empty field. This way, we could fly the larger drones at larger heights, testing different modes and challenges. This time, we tested a few different ways to drop smaller things from a big drone. The large drone had 8 propellers and was called the Matrice M600. For the first few tests, we dropped weights with parachutes attached to see if the system could successfully drop the package. I didn’t like these tests because part of my job was to chase down the parachutes before they flew into the corn fields or the forest. I am not very fast, so this was tough for me. After these tests, we moved to dropping smaller drones from the large one. We dropped the FlameWheels, which are the drones that we built in the first week. This was super cool to see since I built that drone and it was actually doing work in the field! I was also excited that there were no crashes and most things worked as expected.

When I came back from the field Wednesday, I hopped into a meeting that Dr. Duncan was giving to all of the undergraduates in the lab. She walked us though how to plan your research, then related it to Human-Robot Interaction, which is what I will be starting later this summer. The rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday consisted of Andrew and I fiddling with the Crazyflie and Vicon system. There was not much progress, as neither of us knew a lot about Vicon.

By Friday, we were so close to figuring out Vicon in the smaller room. We had worked so long with Ajay, Siya, and Jean-Paul to get everything working as we hoped. At around 4:30, we had made a breakthrough! We finally got my computer working well with Vicon, all that was left was to try flying the drone. Fifteen minutes later, we had everything set up to test it out. Everything was running, and all that was left was to push the launch button. And then there was a power-out. It turned off the Vicon system and the machine running it. I was heartbroken because I was hoping to have everything wrapped up and on my way out by 5:00. But I didn’t have to worry too much. Andrew and I worked really hard and were able to get everything back up and flying. The good news was that we were able to get the Crazyflie up off the ground finally! The bad news: it was having the same flight patterns as before. It would just drift off to a side. Andrew and I decided to call Friday a win and approach the other problems Monday once we had a clear mind.

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REU Experiences

Week 4

On Monday and Tuesday, I largely dedicated my time to finishing the Crazyflie integration. I had been at the point where I was very close to getting it to the point I wanted to, just there were a few errors almost every time I fixed one. Monday, we had a focus group with some of the people from UNL that asked us about our program, mentors, and experiences so far. After that we met with Dr. Sebastian Elbaum to check in with our projects. He was able to give suggestions to all of us in order to help get us out of our ruts if we were stuck. By Tuesday I finally got my Crazyflie to hover! …well, sort of. The script was written so that the drone would take off and hover at 0.5 meters above the ground. Mine took off to about 0.5 meters but slightly drifted towards the left until it was caught in the net. This may have looked like a fail to many, but it was a huge win for me! I finished up the day Tuesday with a good feeling about my Crazyflie’s progress.

Tuesday night, we participated in trivia again, taking home a grand prize of $40. It was a fun time to celebrate the progress I’ve made. Before we came into the lab the next morning, the REU program hosted another seminar, this time about poster presentations. The REU program hosts a poster session at the end of each summer. I will sadly not be here to present mine, as I came a week early so I will depart a week early. I will still make a poster and have it displayed at the symposium, though. So this meeting helped us know the best format and presentation style for academic posters. Pretty soon after that meeting, we had another with Dr. Bradley to talk about academic papers. He helped us understand the best ways to find them, read them, and cite them. Throughout the rest of the day Wednesday, I struggled with my Crazyflie. I was at a point that I couldn’t understand the problems with the drone. Before, I was struggling when I would see some errors come up. Now, the drone was working great according to the system, but in reality it still had some quirks.

Wednesday proved to be an extremely productive day for me. I had gotten to a point where I didn’t how to move forward since I was not receiving errors but it still wasn’t working. But on Wednesday, Dr. Bradley assigned Andrew, another REU student, to work with me on the project. Andrew was going to help me get to a point where he could take over and start a different project with the Crazyflies. I was very skeptical at first, but I soon realized that what I really needed at that point was a new prospective. Since Andrew was not as familiar with the Crazyflies as I was, he asked a lot of questions that I had not thought of. We started implementing some of the ideas he had thrown out, like taking the frame off the Crazyflie to make it lighter or testing what the nodes were sending out to the drone. We continued this experimenting throughout Thursday and Friday, just trying to find out where the problems where rising from and how we could solve them. Even though most of our ideas didn’t help, it was really nice to have Andrew working with me now.

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REU Experiences

REU Week 3

This week, I was able to start my project for this summer. Before, I had been learning how to use ROS, fly the drones, and do a few smaller tasks to prepare for the summer. Monday morning, I came in and had a clear idea of what I needed to achieve, so I started right away with integrating a new drone into the ROS system. My first project was to work with Crazyflies. These are very small drones that connect through a phone app to fly. My task was to integrate them into ROS so that they can be given a set of commands to follow, rather than someone controlling every move that’s made. This task proved to be the most difficult of all my tasks so far. Although many of the graduate students had integrated drones into ROS, no one has integrated the Crazyflies yet. I struggled a lot, especially because others couldn’t help me as easily as before. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all filled with me struggling through the process. Siya was able to help me with a few of my questions, but I really had to focus on solving a lot on my own. I often felt stuck in the project. Tuesday night boosted my confidence, as a few of us researchers went to trivia night and placed quiet well. But I still came to work the next day to a system that was not working as I had planned. I was able to take a break every once in a while to fly Crash, as I was scheduled to take another flying test on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Dr. Detweiler gave us a talk on research and what questions to ask. I found it extremely helpful, especially for me since I have only finished one year of school and have not thought too much about graduate school. He explained what kind of questions labs like this one can research. There is a lot that goes into a research lab, and he helped me understand many of the components. After his talk, we all got back to work. By Thursday, I was still stuck on the same problem. Siya helped me set up with the VICON system, and I worked on that so long I forgot to take my flying test. We scheduled me to take it this coming Tuesday since Siya was busy a lot of the day Friday. At one point on Thursday, Ajay and Carl sat down for a few minutes to help me get around the problem I’ve been having. They finally fixed it and I was able to connect my Crazyflie to the radio. A lot of people from the lab went to the new Incredibles movie Thursday night. I think it was one of my favorite movies of all time. It is also nice to spend time out of the lab with the other researchers. Friday, I was able to spend all day working to integrate the Crazyflie into ROS. By the end of the day, I was extremely close to getting it all sorted out. As I was leaving, Ajay gave me a suggestion to fix the last little problem I was having, and I planned to try it Monday.

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REU Experiences

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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REU Experiences

REU First Week

I am finally in the lab! After a cumulative 17-hour drive (broken into only two days), I moved into the University Suites at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I started my first day of work on Monday. Since it was Memorial Day, the office was rather quiet. This gave Brittany and I a perfect chance to hang out and set me up while it was still relaxed. The two of us along with Brittany’s husband, my graduate mentor, and an undergraduate from the lab went to lunch just to enjoy ourselves before we got to work. Afterwards, I went back to the lab to start some quick training programs. I also got the chance to start flying some of the drones. My first attempt ended with the drone stuck in the ceiling-net, which I had to grab the ladder to get down. But my mentor assured me that I was not the first nor the last to get a drone stuck there this week, so I had nothing to worry about. By day two, I was able to control the drone much better. I didn’t get it stuck in the net once! My first full day included me figuring out how to download the software that I would be using this summer. It was an uneventful day full of loading screens and tutorials. I learned that asking for help from my mentor, Siya, is a much better plan than struggling for an hour or two on a simple problem. I found a flow when going through the tutorials and was able to get through a good amount by the end of the day. Which was perfect, as it gave me a clear head as I went to see the new Star Wars movie that afternoon with the other students in the lab.

The following three days were filled with a similar routine of ROS tutorials, flying drones, and reading research papers so that I could better understand the work in this lab. On Thursday, we did a lab clean up to get ready for the other REU students, who are coming Monday. I scheduled to take my drone flying test on Friday. This test included hovering in place for 30 seconds, landing on a 2×2 square, and a few other obstacles. Sadly, I did not pass. These little drones are so much harder to fly than AJ made it seem. I would have to keep practicing to be ready for my re-do test this coming Thursday. But by the end of this week, I had made great strides in the new tasks I was given. Although I had failed the test, my drone flying skills were so much better than day one when I got it stuck in the net. I have completed the ROS tutorials, and although I am no expert, I will be ready to help the other students as they learn next week. I also have a much better understanding of the work I will be doing from reading the papers Siya gave me. After this week, I am very excited to get started on my project and work in this lab for the whole summer!