Archive for the 'Robotics' Category

Springtime and Robots

Spring and Robots

I’m sure the mention of Spring conjures up a lot of images for most folks – flowers, sunny days and such. It makes me think of robots. Of course, I think of robots quite a bit since I work with them every day here at UTARI, but this time of year is when the pace picks up. It’s when there’s a buzz around the Research Institute. It’s when students crowd into our building to prep for competition.

2013 SUAS team

UTARI is home to five student robotics competition teams: IGVC (Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition), SUAS (Student Unmanned Air Systems), RoboBoat, IEEE Microrobotics, and the NASA Rover Competition team. The ground, air and water competitions are hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which has a large outreach program at the K-12 and collegiate levels.

The requirements for all five competitions are impressive, requiring a combination of navigation, design, mobility and sensor capabilities that result in a robotics platform that can maneuver and conduct whatever tasks the competition requires. Our students work with UTARI researchers and affiliated faculty throughout the year to meet these requirements, and come May and June, they’re on the road to compete and test the design and functionality of their robotics. Industry partners, including QinetiQ North America, L3, Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control, sponsored the teams in 2013, helping them prep for contests in Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, and Karlsruhe, Germany.

President Vistasp Karbhari

President Vistasp Karbhari addresses the Consortium.

Propelling Forward

Teams are gaining momentum, not only from the support of faculty, researchers and industry sponsors, but from taking advantage of the resources and facility space in UTARI’s Autonomous Systems Lab. At the beginning of 2014, the Autonomous Systems Lab began to take shape, culminating in the Unmanned Systems Consortium at the end of January. UTARI student robotics competition teams had a huge impact on the event – providing demonstrations and talking to attendees about their work. Team members represented themselves well, and the participants at the Consortium (and Dallas/Fort Worth media) took notice.

And the media is bound to take more notice in the coming month with National Robotics Week set for April 5-13th. For our part, UTARI will join the celebration by hosting a National Robotics Week Expo on Wednesday, April 9th, giving Dallas/Fort Worth businesses and organizations the opportunity to showcase their most impressive robotics. Think of a Robotics Flea Market – no vendor fees, no price for admission – just folks coming together to look at the latest technology. We hope you will be able to join us – it’s bound to be an exciting event. And who needs flowers for Spring when you can have robots?

The Way Ahead

What organizations do you think would be interested in demonstrating at the National Robotics Week Expo? What type of robotics technology would you like to see at the event? How do you think we can more actively engage students in robotics?

Taking Off, Part II

When I heard the wind howling at 5am last Monday, I knew that nothing was going to be flying outside UTARI that day. Those are the breaks. When you plan an Unmanned Systems Consortium that is bringing in more than a hundred of the nation’s leading industry and academic professionals in the field, and you’ve just received an FAA Certificate of Authorization to fly unmanned aircraft on your campus, it’s only natural that Texas weather would have other ideas. Namely, 30-mile-per-hour winds.

Local Media Showcases Unmanned Vehicles

IGVC team leader, Rommel Alonzo speaks with local media at the Unmanned Systems Consortium.

So when the Consortium attendees moved outside, our demonstrations focused primarily on Marauder, a product of our student robotics competition team for the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC). Marauder maneuvered around a marked course and got quite a bit of publicity from local and national media.

For those who were looking for a larger – much larger – unmanned ground vehicle, the folks at Lockheed Martin brought out an impressive piece of machinery: the Squad Mission Support System (SMSS). The largest unmanned ground vehicle ever deployed with U.S. ground forces, the SMSS was parked right in the middle of our Autonomous Systems Lab for the event. With the ability to provide a range of logistical and transportation support for our troops, the SMSS is an extraordinary vehicle. It’ll be interesting to see how Lockheed Martin furthers its capabilities in the future – with the advances in technology and the SMSS’s imposing size, the possibilities for improving warfighter conditions is exciting.

Lockheed Martin's SMSS and the Maurader in the Autonomous Systems Laboratory

And while we weren’t able to fly outside, Dr. Frank Lewis and his students in our Autonomous Systems Lab were able to showcase the abilities of the Parrot Quadrotor, a UAS weighing in at only five or six pounds. With the capacity to track images and a variety of motion control mechanisms, the Quadrotor has a range of surveillance and tracking uses. With facial recognition, the prospects of finding lost children or disoriented elderly patients with dementia could increase considerably. And because its recognition ability also includes symbols, even tracking cars on an Amber Alert could be in the not-too-distant future.

Cleared for Takeoff

COA area overlooking the lake.

To me, the biggest take-away from the Unmanned Systems Consortium is the open-ended possibilities these technologies offer to assist humans in dirty, dangerous, difficult and dull tasks. Investment in the research and development of unmanned systems provides a wealth of opportunities to increase the efficacy of industries from national security to agriculture. I’m looking forward to seeing how our new FAA Test Site designation, and our Certificate of Authorization to fly on the UTARI campus, will impact technological developments in UAS. Now that we’re “cleared for takeoff,” it will be exciting to see what innovations take flight.

The Way Ahead

What type of systems – ground, water, or air – do you find most interesting? What industries do you believe will further the expansion of unmanned systems most? What unmanned systems research and development areas are you most interested in exploring?

Taking Off

The folks here at UTARI hit the ground running in 2014. Just as the holidays were wrapping up, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that a Texas team – a team that includes UTA-affiliated faculty and researchers from UTARI – would be one of the nation’s six major FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft systems. The Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation team, led by Texas A&M Corpus Christi, includes UTARI, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the Camber Corporation, Southwest Research Institute, and other research institutions and private-sector companies. The designation is a huge deal in terms of research efforts, not to mention financial implications for the state.

Credit: Federal Aviation Administration

Lone Star State of Mind

It was an exhaustive 10-month process, with 25 proposals submitted from 24 states across the nation. Part of the appeal of Texas is the geographic and climactic diversity it brings to the test sites – anyone who has experienced Texas weather knows the type of diversity the FAA can expect. Considering that the focus of the congressional mandated test sites is to conduct research into ensuring the safety of UAS into the national airspace over the next few years, I can’t think of a better place than Texas to conduct testing. Extreme temperatures, unique terrain, broad wind speed variations, drought conditions – it’s all right here.

Research Takes Flight

Clockwise from top left: Dogan, Lewis, Subbarao, Huff

So you might be wondering, “How does this fit under the umbrella of ‘Assistive Technologies’?” Remember when we talked about UTARI’s definition of “assistive technology” earlier – as advanced, affordable technology to help humanity perform dirty, dull, dangerous, or difficult tasks in the home, workplace, or community? UTARI’s work as part of the FAA UAS test site encompasses all of those descriptors – dirty, dull, dangerous and difficult. UTA-affiliated faculty – Dr. Attila Dogan, Dr. Frank Lewis, Dr. Kamesh Subbarao, and Dr. Brian Huff – and UTARI researchers working on the project will focus on areas including collision avoidance and obstacle detection, modeling and simulation for operations and control, conflict prediction, avoidance and prevention, and autonomous guidance simulation in adverse environments. Many of our research areas deal with the everyday, nitty-gritty parts of making sure unmanned aerial systems run safely in our communities. And as we gain progressively more mature technology, we’re likely to see UAS utilized more frequently in tasks that are difficult, dirty or dangerous for humans – border surveillance, law enforcement, agricultural and forestry monitoring, and a wide scope of research efforts.

The Way Ahead

In what areas do you see UAS expanding in the future? What applications do you envision, and what technology would you like to see developed as part of our UAS efforts?

Smart Homes Getting Smarter

Smart Home TechnologyAt the beginning of December, while a monster of an ice storm had most of us in Dallas/Fort Worth trapped inside, a group of people gathered in San Antonio to talk about helping our wounded warriors. The meeting, held at the headquarters of grocery retailer H-E-B, was about a specific initiative: building state-of-the-art Smart Homes for our severely injured service members.

State of the Art Assistive Technologies

The initial phase of the project calls for two homes to be completed in 2014 – homes like no others in the world. Using current technologies (think robotic vacuums, automated temperature control) and newly-developed technologies (single-purpose robots to take out the trash, network-enabled appliances, etc.), the homes will be specifically designed to suit the needs of the individual soldier and family that live in them.

General Lynch addresses Smart Home collaborators.

The companies that attended the H-E-B meeting have a passion for helping the disabled, and were particularly interested in how they could be part of the effort to better the lives of our wounded warriors. The discussion focused on everything from addressing the medical needs of the homeowner, to ways in which to automate house work and handle specific space considerations. And the conversation extended to what technologies are anticipated down the road – what the group hoped for in terms of research and development of Smart Home components as the initiative progresses.

Quality of Life Research

There’s quite a bit of noteworthy work going on in this type of assistive technology, of course. Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh’s Quality of Life Technology Center drives some impressive research into increasing the independence of the disabled and elderly. And UTARI’s own Living Lab re-creates typical home living conditions to allow for realistic study of how products and processes will perform under everyday circumstances. Not surprisingly, using a real refrigerator when testing how a robot will open and remove items from a refrigerator, makes a world of difference.

PR2 Unloading Dryer

PR2 Robot unloading dryer in Living Laboratory

The coming months will be filled with a massive amount of research and development for the H-E-B Smart Homes project (not to mention good, old-fashioned brick-and-mortar work). The hope is that this initiative is simply the beginning of hundreds of Smart Homes across the country for our severely injured soldiers.

What do you think would be the most useful technology in a Smart Home? If it was your home, what features and technology would be on your “wish list”? What companies do you think would be interested in this initiative?