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.