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  • richardmitnick 11:49 am on January 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Drones, DX-3 Vanguard, Jeremy Wang, or UTAT, Sky Guys, , University of Toronto Aerospace Team   

    From University of Toronto: “From paper aircraft to the real thing: U of T graduates develop next-gen drone” 

    U Toronto Bloc

    From University of Toronto

    January 11, 2019
    Erica Rae Chong

    The DX-3 Vanguard is put to the test at Markham Airport. The hybrid drone features vertical take-off and landing, long-range communications and cloud-based analytics (photo courtesy of the Sky Guys)

    Jeremy Wang’s career in aerospace engineering started with folding a simple paper airplane.

    Today, he’s leading a team of designers – including many fellow University of Toronto engineering graduates – to create and test an ambitious long-range drone capable of vertical takeoffs and landings.

    In his first year as an undergraduate, Wang picked up a cleverly-designed paper airplane flyer from the University of Toronto Aerospace Team, or UTAT, at the engineering club fair.

    “I distinctly remember thinking ‘I’m not interested in aerospace, I’m never going to use this,’” he says.

    “But for reasons that I honestly don’t remember, I ended up going to their first meeting with a bunch of friends and thought ‘Wow! This is actually really cool.’”

    Wang would eventually become the group’s executive director and lead a major expansion of the team. His work earned the attention of the New York-based Aviation Week Network, which named him to a prestigious industry list of future engineering leaders.

    But it was his co-op position at The Sky Guys, a local drone company, that set him on the path to his current project. Now the firm’s chief technology officer, Wang and a nine-person team aim to design an unpiloted aerial vehicle, or UAV, that combines the best features of both fixed-wing and multi-rotor drones.

    Traditionally, fixed-wing UAVs are optimized to fly long distances, but they require a long runway or launch rail to take off and land. By contrast, multi-rotor UAVs can perform vertical take-off and landings, but are less efficient for long-distance flying and have a shorter battery life.

    The teams’ creation – the DX-3 Vanguard – features multiple rotors spread across a fixed-wing body making it capable of vertical takeoffs before transitioning into forward flight. The hybrid aircraft can theoretically carry a payload of up to three kilograms, stay aloft for up to 24 hours, and cover up to 1,500 kilometres before refuelling.

    Wang says the prototype can communicate via radio, cellular or satellite signal. “As a pilot, you can be flying the DX-3 Vanguard in Toronto while the drone itself is flying on the west coast of Canada, and you can maintain connectivity over satellite link,” he says.

    The drone is also equipped with a cloud-based data management system, allowing users to process, upload and view images and video data from the DX-3 on a secure platform.

    Such a drone could be used for a wide range of applications. While Wang declined to provide details specific to the DX-3, he reveals that one of the Sky Guys’ key partners is the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The team was awarded a $750,000 innovation grant in 2017 to develop an artificial intelligence-enabled drone to perform highway enforcement tasks. These could include determining the number of passengers in high-occupancy vehicle lanes, tracking the speed of drivers or monitoring road conditions.

    Current federal regulations prohibit drones from flying beyond line-of-sight without a special permit, but Wang remains optimistic regulations will change in the near future. The team has begun early-stage testing of the DX-3 within visual range at Markham Airport, north of Toronto, with plans to test equipment without line-of-sight in the future.

    The prototype drone can communicate via radio, cellular or satellite signal, potentially allowing the operator to fly from the other side of the country (photo courtesy of Sky Guys)

    So far, the team has evaluated basic functional and performance characteristics, including conventional takeoffs and landings, payload envelope and communications. But the biggest challenge the team had to overcome was human in nature.

    “Aerospace engineering involves so many disciplines that have to work together in unison – mechanical, electrical, flight operations, etc. – without necessarily understanding what each person is doing,” says Wang.

    “The challenge was nailing that interdisciplinary coordination.”

    In addition to Wang, the team includes alumni Lucais Kwon, Carl Pigeon, Carson Dueck, Hussein Khimji and Thomas Ulph, many of whom were also involved in UTAT.

    “I think this team is a testament to U of T engineering,” Wang says. “The faculty provides a very solid and rigorous academic foundation, but also a very rich co-curricular environment where you can join design teams, take part in competitions and supplement theory with experiential learning.”

    “It’s also kind of nice to have that continuity between friends you meet in university and the people you spend most of your day with,” he adds.

    “It’s what I’m most excited about when I come to work every day.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Founded in 1827, the University of Toronto has evolved into Canada’s leading institution of learning, discovery and knowledge creation. We are proud to be one of the world’s top research-intensive universities, driven to invent and innovate.

    Our students have the opportunity to learn from and work with preeminent thought leaders through our multidisciplinary network of teaching and research faculty, alumni and partners.

    The ideas, innovations and actions of more than 560,000 graduates continue to have a positive impact on the world.

  • richardmitnick 11:57 am on November 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Drones, , , Remote recharging system   

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne: “Using diamonds to recharge civilian drones in flight” 

    EPFL bloc

    From École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

    Cécilia Carron

    Un système de laser pourrait permettre de recharger des drones en vol grâce à un diamant industriel© 2018 Jamani Caillet

    © 2018 LakeDiamond

    A small lab-grown diamond measuring a few millimeters per side could one day enable civilian drones to be recharged in mid-flight through a laser. Thanks to the diamond, the laser beam can remain strong enough over a long distance to recharge photovoltaic cells on the drones’ surface. This system, which poses no threat to human health, is being developed by EPFL spin-off LakeDiamond. It could also be used to transmit both power and data to satellites and has just been included in the ten projects supported for two years by of the Swiss Space Office.

    Drones are being used for a growing number of purposes. Their designs are ever more efficient, and techniques for flying them are being further refined all the time. But drones still have the same weak point: their battery. This is particularly true of propeller drones, which are popular for information-gathering purposes in dangerous or hard-to-reach regions. These drones can fly for only around 15 minutes at a time because their engines quickly burn through their batteries. One way of addressing this limitation – without weighing the drones down – would be to recharge them while aloft using a power beaming system: an energy-rich laser beam that is guided by a tracking system and shines directly on photovoltaic cells on the drones’ exterior.

    Several labs around the world, including in the US, have been working on this idea in recent years. LakeDiamond, an EPFL spin-off based at Innovation Park, has now demonstrated the feasibility of using a high-power laser for this purpose. What’s more, LakeDiamond’s laser emits a wavelength that cannot damage human skin or eyes – the issue of safety is paramount, since the system is meant for use with civilian drones. LakeDiamond’s technology is built around diamonds that are grown in the company’s lab and subsequently etched at the atomic level.

    World record for power

    Despite appearances, standard laser beams are not as straight as they seem: as they travel, they expand ever so slightly, leading to a loss in density as they go. But LakeDiamond’s system produces a laser beam with a wavelength of 1.5 µm that, in addition to being safe, can travel much farther without losing strength. “Systems developed by other companies and labs, often for military applications, employ lasers that are more powerful and thus more dangerous for humans,” says Pascal Gallo, CEO of LakeDiamond. His company took the opposite tack: their technology transforms the rays emitted by a simple low-power diode into a high-quality laser beam. Their beam has a larger diameter, and its rays remain parallel over a longer distance – in this case up to several hundred meters.

    In LakeDiamond’s laser, the light produced by a diode is directed at a booster composed of reflective material, an optical component and a small metal plate to absorb the heat. The breakthrough lies not with this set-up, which already exists, but with the fact that the emitted beam is only a few dozen watts strong. The secret is using a small square lab-grown diamond as the optical component, as this delivers unparalleled performance. LakeDiamond’s system holds the world record for continuous operation using a wavelength in the middle of the infrared range – it delivers more than 30 watts in its base configuration. “That’s equivalent to around 10,000 laser pointers,” adds Gallo.

    The lab-grown diamonds’ key properties include high transparency and thermal conductivity. Achieving those things – and mastering the nano-etching process – took the researchers over ten years of development. LakeDiamond grows its diamonds through a process of chemical vapor deposition, an approach that ensures their purity and reproducibility. The surfaces of the resulting tiny square diamonds are then sculpted at the nano level using expertise developed in Niels Quack’s lab at EPFL (read the EPFL article on this topic). Thanks to their inherent properties and etched shapes, the diamonds are able to transfer heat to a small metal plate that dissipates it, while at the same time reflecting light in such a way as to create a laser beam.

    “To achieve greater power – say to recharge a larger drone – these lasers could easily be operated in series,” says Nicolas Malpiece, who is in charge of power beaming at LakeDiamond. The company’s remote recharging system works in the lab but will require further development and refinement before it’s ready for field use. What would happen if a drone flies behind an obstacle and is cut off from its laser energy source? Several approaches to this problem are currently being explored. A small back-up battery could take over temporarily, or, for information-gathering missions over rough terrain for example, the drone could simply return to within range of the laser in order to top up its battery.

    This energy transmission system is also interesting for other areas of application. It can for example be used for charging and transmitting data to satellites. The development of the system is included in a support program of the Swiss Space Office, which began on 1 November and runs for two years.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university. It receives students, professors and staff from over 120 nationalities. With both a Swiss and international calling, it is therefore guided by a constant wish to open up; its missions of teaching, research and partnership impact various circles: universities and engineering schools, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and gymnasiums, industry and economy, political circles and the general public.

  • richardmitnick 10:52 am on December 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Drones, ,   

    From JPL: “From Monterey Bay to Europa” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    November 30, 2016
    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    JPL’s Steve Chien with several of the underwater drones used in a research project earlier this year. Chien, along with his research collaborators, are developing artificial intelligence for these drones. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    If you think operating a robot in space is hard, try doing it in the ocean.

    Saltwater can corrode your robot and block its radio signals.

    Kelp forests can tangle it up, and you might not get it back.

    Sharks will even try to take bites out of its wings.

    The ocean is basically a big obstacle course of robot death. Despite this, robotic submersibles have become critical tools for ocean research. While satellites can study the ocean surface, their signals can’t penetrate the water. A better way to study what’s below is to look beneath yourself — or send a robot in your place.

    That’s why a team of researchers from NASA and other institutions recently visited choppy waters in Monterey Bay, California. Their ongoing research is developing artificial intelligence for submersibles, helping them track signs of life below the waves. Doing so won’t just benefit our understanding of Earth’s marine environments; the team hopes this artificial intelligence will someday be used to explore the icy oceans believed to exist on moons like Europa. If confirmed, these oceans are thought to be some of the most likely places to host life in the outer solar system.

    A fleet of six coordinated drones was used to study Monterey Bay. The fleet roved for miles seeking out changes in temperature and salinity. To plot their routes, forecasts of these ocean features were sent to the drones from shore.

    The drones also sensed how the ocean actively changed around them. A major goal for the research team is to develop artificial intelligence that seamlessly integrates both kinds of data.

    “Autonomous drones are important for ocean research, but today’s drones don’t make decisions on the fly,” said Steve Chien, one of the research team’s members. Chien leads the Artificial Intelligence Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “In order to study unpredictable ocean phenomena, we need to develop submersibles that can navigate and make decisions on their own, and in real-time. Doing so would help us understand our own oceans — and maybe those on other planets.”

    Other research members hail from Caltech in Pasadena; the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole, Massachusetts; and Remote Sensing Solutions, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

    If successful, this project could lead to submersibles that can plot their own course as they go, based on what they detect in the water around them. That could change how we collect data, while also developing the kind of autonomy needed for planetary exploration, said Andrew Thompson, assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech.

    “Our goal is to remove the human effort from the day-to-day piloting of these robots and focus that time on analyzing the data collected,” Thompson said. “We want to give these submersibles the freedom and ability to collect useful information without putting a hand in to correct them.”

    At the smallest levels, marine life exists as “biocommunities.” Nutrients in the water are needed to support plankton; small fish follow the plankton; big fish follow them. Find the nutrients, and you can follow the breadcrumb trail to other marine life.

    But that’s easier said than done. Those nutrients are swept around by ocean currents, and can change direction suddenly. Life under the sea is constantly shifting in every direction, and at varying scales of size.

    “It’s all three dimensions plus time,” Chien said about the challenges of tracking ocean features. “Phenomena like algal blooms are hundreds of kilometers across. But small things like dinoflagellate clouds are just dozens of meters across.”

    It might be easy for a fish to track these features, but it’s nearly impossible for an unintelligent robot.

    “Truly autonomous fleets of robots have been a holy grail in oceanography for decades,” Thompson said. “Bringing JPL’s exploration and AI experience to this problem should allow us to lay the groundwork for carrying out similar activities in more challenging regions, like Earth’s polar regions and even oceans on other planets.”

    The recent field work at Monterey Bay was funded by JPL and Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS). Additional research is planned in the spring of 2017.

    For more information about this research, visit:


    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 10:38 am on August 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Drones, ,   

    From Rice: “Flying toward the future” 

    Rice U bloc

    Rice University

    August 14, 2015
    Arie Passwaters

    RCEL drone camp inspires middle school students, provides mentorship opportunities for Rice students and alumni

    What do former Air Force pilots, Rice faculty members, drone experts and industry engineers have in common? A passion for educating future generations of science, technology, engineering and mathematics students.

    Just such a group gathered at Rice Aug. 11-13 to share their experiences and knowledge with a group of 20 sixth- to ninth-grade students at the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership’s (RCEL) drone camp.

    Temp 1

    The students — all from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds — spent three days learning how to design, engineer and operate drone aircraft as well as gaining hands-on experience piloting drones. The intensive camp also explored the ethical and socio-cultural implications of this emergent technology, said camp organizer Cesare Wright, an RCEL lecturer and outreach/leadership specialist.

    Temp 1
    Farmers could use drones to boost food supplies

    “Our kids aren’t just learning how to operate or fly drones, they’re also learning about the engineering, the science and the math behind building drones, about the future of drones and how we can take this technology and do socially meaningful things,” Wright said. “One of the things we have stressed throughout this camp is not only the technology but also the fact that technology is inherently social: They’re not just making cool things, but cool things that people will use in the real world.”

    But why drones?

    Preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow requires not only a quality education, but also a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wright said.

    “A key element of our STEM strategy is to support curriculum-based programs that excite students in STEM pathways,” said Wright. “Drones offer an ideal vehicle for sparking student interest and encouraging them to develop invaluable math and science skills.”

    He said RCEL worked with Houston Independent School District teachers and with district media specialist Shelea Majors to align the camp’s curriculum with Texas education standards and ensure that the experience reinforced traditional classroom instruction.

    “The drone camp is designed to engage students in the applied practice and teamwork scenarios that are often difficult to replicate in a more conventional classroom setting,” Wright said.

    Many sides of outreach

    Dyan Gibbens, an Air Force Academy graduate, pilot and founder of Trumbull Unmanned, a Houston-based firm that helps energy companies adopt drone technology, has worked with RCEL to secure internships for Rice students. The drone camp was born from a brainstorming session Gibbens had with industry partner and camp sponsor BP on ways to promote STEM to middle schoolers. She immediately thought, “RCEL was the perfect place for it.”

    Wright agreed that by partnering with Trumbull Unmanned and BP, RCEL’s drone camp would not only expose 20 Houston-area students to STEM fields, but also provide enrichment prospects for RCEL students.

    “This camp is not only an opportunity to reach out to the community but it also gives us an opportunity to offer our students real-world applied leadership opportunities to mentor, coach and lead K-12 students,” Wright said.

    Olawale Lawal, a graduate student in materials science and nanoengineering, was approached by his research adviser, Dean of Engineering Ned Thomas, to participate in STEM outreach programs offered by the department. As a graduate of the Air Force Academy, he seemed a perfect fit for the drone camp.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Rice U campus

    In his 1912 inaugural address, Rice University president Edgar Odell Lovett set forth an ambitious vision for a great research university in Houston, Texas; one dedicated to excellence across the range of human endeavor. With this bold beginning in mind, and with Rice’s centennial approaching, it is time to ask again what we aspire to in a dynamic and shrinking world in which education and the production of knowledge will play an even greater role. What shall our vision be for Rice as we prepare for its second century, and how ought we to advance over the next decade?

    This was the fundamental question posed in the Call to Conversation, a document released to the Rice community in summer 2005. The Call to Conversation asked us to reexamine many aspects of our enterprise, from our fundamental mission and aspirations to the manner in which we define and achieve excellence. It identified the pressures of a constantly changing and increasingly competitive landscape; it asked us to assess honestly Rice’s comparative strengths and weaknesses; and it called on us to define strategic priorities for the future, an effort that will be a focus of the next phase of this process.

  • richardmitnick 9:06 am on August 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Drones   

    From M.I.T.: “Delivery by drone” 

    MIT News

    August 21, 2014
    Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office

    In the near future, the package that you ordered online may be deposited at your doorstep by a drone: Last December, online retailer Amazon announced plans to explore drone-based delivery, suggesting that fleets of flying robots might serve as autonomous messengers that shuttle packages to customers within 30 minutes of an order.


    To ensure safe, timely, and accurate delivery, drones would need to deal with a degree of uncertainty in responding to factors such as high winds, sensor measurement errors, or drops in fuel. But such “what-if” planning typically requires massive computation, which can be difficult to perform on the fly.

    Now MIT researchers have come up with a two-pronged approach that significantly reduces the computation associated with lengthy delivery missions. The team first developed an algorithm that enables a drone to monitor aspects of its “health” in real time. With the algorithm, a drone can predict its fuel level and the condition of its propellers, cameras, and other sensors throughout a mission, and take proactive measures — for example, rerouting to a charging station — if needed.

    The researchers also devised a method for a drone to efficiently compute its possible future locations offline, before it takes off. The method simplifies all potential routes a drone may take to reach a destination without colliding with obstacles.

    In simulations involving multiple deliveries under various environmental conditions, the researchers found that their drones delivered as many packages as those that lacked health-monitoring algorithms — but with far fewer failures or breakdowns.

    “With something like package delivery, which needs to be done persistently over hours, you need to take into account the health of the system,” says Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Interestingly, in our simulations, we found that, even in harsh environments, out of 100 drones, we only had a few failures.”

    Agha-mohammadi will present details of the group’s approach in September at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, in Chicago. His co-authors are MIT graduate student Kemal Ure; Jonathan How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and John Vian of Boeing.

    Tree of possibilities

    Planning an autonomous vehicle’s course often involves an approach called Markov Decision Process (MDP), a sequential decision-making framework that resembles a “tree” of possible actions. Each node along a tree can branch into several potential actions — each of which, if taken, may result in even more possibilities. As Agha-mohammadi explains it, MDP is “the process of reasoning about the future” to determine the best sequence of policies to minimize risk.

    MDP, he says, works reasonably well in environments with perfect measurements, where the result of one action will be observed perfectly. But in real-life scenarios, where there is uncertainty in measurements, such sequential reasoning is less reliable. For example, even if a command is given to turn 90 degrees, a strong wind may prevent that command from being carried out.

    Instead, the researchers chose to work with a more general framework of Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes (POMDP). This approach generates a similar tree of possibilities, although each node represents a probability distribution, or the likelihood of a given outcome. Planning a vehicle’s route over any length of time, therefore, can result in an exponential growth of probable outcomes, which can be a monumental task in computing.

    Agha-mohammadi chose to simplify the problem by splitting the computation into two parts: vehicle-level planning, such as a vehicle’s location at any given time; and mission-level, or health planning, such as the condition of a vehicle’s propellers, cameras, and fuel levels.

    For vehicle-level planning, he developed a computational approach to POMDP that essentially funnels multiple possible outcomes into a few most-likely outcomes.

    “Imagine a huge tree of possibilities, and a large chunk of leaves collapses to one leaf, and you end up with maybe 10 leaves instead of a million leaves,” Agha-mohammadi says. “Then you can … let this run offline for say, half an hour, and map a large environment, and accurately predict the collision and failure probabilities on different routes.”

    He says that planning out a vehicle’s possible positions ahead of time frees up a significant amount of computational energy, which can then be spent on mission-level planning in real time. In this regard, he and his colleagues used POMDP to generate a tree of possible health outcomes, including fuel levels and the status of sensors and propellers.

    Proactive delivery

    The researchers combined the two computational approaches, and ran simulations in which drones were tasked with delivering multiple packages to different addresses under various wind conditions and with limited fuel. They found that drones operating under the two-pronged approach were more proactive in preserving their health, rerouting to a recharge station midmission to keep from running out of fuel. Even with these interruptions, the team found that these drones were able to deliver just as many packages as those that were programmed to simply make deliveries without considering health.

    Going forward, the team plans to test the route-planning approach in actual experiments. The researchers have attached electromagnets to small drones, or quadrotors, enabling them to pick up and drop off small parcels. The team has also programmed the drones to land on custom-engineered recharge stations.

    “We believe in the near future, in a lab setting, we can show what we’re gaining with this framework by delivering as many packages as we can while preserving health,” Agha-mohammadi says. “Not only the drone, but the package might be important, and if you fail, it could be a big loss.”

    This work was supported by Boeing.

    See the full article here.

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