Media Projects *

Eclipse Flying

The Nimbus Lab spent from early morning until sunset last Monday, Aug 21st doing atmospheric profiling flights to determine the impact of the Eclipse on weather patterns. These were collaborative experiments with Dr. Adam Houston from UNL Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Sean from NOAA, and Dr. Jamey Jacob from Oklahoma State University as part of our Cloud-Map NSF project.

We performed a series of vertical 0-400ft transects to measure atmospheric properties before, during, and after the eclipse. At the same time Jamey’s team measured wind and other data fixed at 400 feet. Sean regularly launched weather balloons to measure atmospheric properties even higher up and Adam’s team was obtained detailed surface readings. And of course there were a number of other UAVs just collecting images. During these experiments Nimbus collected 223 minutes of data in 13 flights. Special thanks goes out to Ajay who manned the controls for all these flights and Ashraful and Najeeb who were critical parts of the sensor control and ground team. Here are a few more pictures from the event.



Prescribed Fire Updates


This is one of my favorite pictures after our successful prescribed burn at Homestead National Monument, which shows all the people that were involved in the first ever prescribed fire ignition on public land by a UAS (can you guess which side is the fire crew and which side is us?). Recently, we had an article come out in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that discusses our vision and the potential impact our prescribed fire ignition UAS will have on fire management:

D. Twidwell, C. Allen, C. Detweiler, J. Higgins, C. Laney, and S. Elbaum. Smokey Comes of Age: Unmanned Aerial Systems for Fire Management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 14(6): 333-339, 2016.

We also recently had a paper accepted that describes some of the details of our field experiments:

E. Beachly, J. Higgins, C. Laney, S. Elbaum, C. Detweiler, C. Allen, and D. Twidwell. A micro-UAS to Start Prescribed Fires. Accepted to appear in International Symposium on Experimental Robotics (ISER), Tokyo, Japan, 2016.

Our work on UAS prescribed fire ignition has also continued to get a lot of media attention, including a story on NPR, Science Daily, trended as the 14th most popular government tweet in August, Nature World News, Nature News, Ecological Society of America, Big Ten Network, and others.

We are continuing to develop our system and have plans for additional tests and more news soon.


Science Olympiad Flight

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.




Nimbus Lab Story on KMTV (Omaha Ch. 3)

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:


Educational Material * Media

Sunday with a scientist

IMG_5006-sml IMG_5084-sml

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.

IMG_5030-smlAnother 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.

IMG_5041-smlLearning 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.



Nimbus Lab Featured in NSF 360

Recently our lab was featured on the NSF 360 daily news website! Below is the video they showed:



Carrick Detweiler was also recently interviewed by Julie Rose on BYU Radio (XMRadio) and discusses the water sampling project in more detail.



NIMBUS Water Sampler in the News

waterSamplingFromAbove 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


Nimbus in IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine

This past winter we collaborated with the Extreme Action Dance Company STREB to create a performance with flying robots and dancers. You can see a video discussing the collaboration and also a recently published article on the collaboration in IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine.


Congratulations to NIMBUS Lab Graduates!

Congratulations to Andrew, Hengle, Jinfu, John-Paul, and Sreeja who completed their M.S. theses this past year! They all did great work and are now respectively at Microsoft, LI-COR, Rocket Fuel, UNL CS PhD program(!), and MathWorks. Congratulations also to Caleb, Courtney, and Jared who finished their undergraduate degrees. We will miss them all and their contributions to the lab.


Dance and Robotics (STREB!)

We are once again working on a fun collaboration with UNL dancers, the Lied Center, and also architecture students! We are putting together a set of robot/dance performances that are inspired by STREB and will show them at the Lied Center on April 11th as part of the pre-show before STREB performs. Our show is free and open to the public (starts at 6:30 in the Johnny Carson Theater at the Lied Center on April 11th) and is also part of National Robotics Week. The collaboration is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.