Inside Unmanned Systems

JUN-JUL 2017

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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AIR NEW APPLICATIONS 50 unmanned systems inside   June/July 2017 "SOME OF THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS we're trying to answer are how to make communication compact, how to model the behaviors of swarms in nature and how to make the computer lightweight enough to accomplish the mission in the shortest amount of time." Souma Chowdhury, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University at Buffalo BEYOND DATA COLLECTION D rone swarms also work together to carry objects, said Javier Alonso- Mora, assistant professor at the Delft Center for Systems and Control at Delft University of Technology. This can be especially beneficial for the construction, manufacturing and transportation industries. data, but very important data. Some of the fundamental questions we're trying to answer are how to make communication compact, how to model the behaviors of swarms in nature and how to make the computer light- weight enough to accomplish the mission in the shortest amount of time." Rather than sending all the information every drone collects as raw data, the impor- tant data is compressed and time stamped before it's passed on, Chowdhury said. That makes the data lightweight, and means the other drones only receive intelligent, action- able information. The team is also developing network protocols and new ways to configure radios on UAS to help alleviate the bandwidth challenge. Javier Alonso-Mora, assistant professor at the Delft Center for Systems and Control at Delft University of Technology, was part of a team at MIT that developed a decentralized control algorithm for drone swarms in 2016. The planning algorithm can handle stationary and moving obstacles with less computation than if it were centralized. There's no need for every robot to send a com- plete map of the obstacle-free space around them to every drone in the swarm. Instead, they'll only share these maps with their neigh- bors, Alonso-Mora said. From there, the drones can determine where each neighbor's map in- tersects with their own, and then pass that on to the next neighbor. Less information is shared, but each drone still knows where it can safely fly without risk of a collision. The challenge becomes creating a robust, re- liable communication system and determining how much information the drones need to pass on and when, and how they reason while out in the environment, especially if they're faced with an obstacle, Alonso-Mora said. "They can communicate with their neigh- bors to reach a consensus and decide how to collectively move," he said. "They don't need a centralized unit. If the centralized unit fails the whole system will fail." It's also important to keep in mind that teams of robots or swarms of drones aren't necessarily going to be right next to each other during the entire mission; chances are, some will go out of communication range from time to time, said Sanjiv Singh, a research profes- sor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and founder of the startup drone company Near Earth Autonomy. Singh sees a loose infrastructure where ev- ery system in the swarm is assigned a specific task. There's no team leader, and every drone constantly communicates their location, with the others listening if they can. One drone may go out of listening range for a while, but will re- turn once its task is complete. When part of the mission fails or there's an unexpected change of plans, the systems will come together and re-coordinate. "The main challenge is dealing with com- plex tasks where things are changing, not go- ing as expected or even failing," he said. "What we want in these teams is to not have a single point of failure. Responding to the world when it's not being cooperative is the biggest chal- lenge. Let's say a battery dies in one of the ro- bots unexpectedly. There needs to be a way for the team to reorganize and complete the entire task, even though the world didn't cooperate." The Future On the entertainment side, Intel's Cheung would like to see a world where drone light shows aren't just for large, major events like the Super Bowl. Dancing drones could serve as the entertainment for conferences or as a way to engage fans after professional and

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