Last week I attended the Autonomous Systems Showcase event at the University of Southampton. The focus of the event was to bring together industry, government and academia “to explore commercial and research opportunities to deliver the next generation of aerospace, marine, defence and other advanced systems technology to keep the UK at the forefront of these important industries“.
Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, delivered the opening keynote. Other speakers included Sir Brian Burridge, Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Finmeccanica UK, and Michael Pickwoad, Production Designer from Dr Who, who talked about his creative process and the relationship between science and fiction.
I have always enjoyed STEM outreach, be it talking about the UAV research I have been involved with at the Ladies Luncheon Club (average age of ~65) or showing how you can use node.js to control a Parrot AR drone to a group of hormonal teenagers.
Besides an interest in flying things I have always had a weak spot for maritime vehicles, particularly submarines. (For some reason land vehicles never really interested me). Triggered by the OpenROV kickstarter and, more recently, by listening to The Engineering Commons episode on Underwater Robots with Bill Porter, I have been looking for opportunities to learn more about them or even build them. As my own spare time has pretty much disappeared for various reasons, doing this as part of my STEM Ambassador work seemed a great idea.
One liner summary: If you are interested in applying drone/UAV technology (or are already doing so) to humanitarian/social/conservation related problems, and you live in the UK. then get in touch.
I have worked with drones quite extensively in the past, including some work with the BBC, and still do in various ways now. I have to say, though, that I dislike the term drone and much prefer to use the term UAV or UAS. But that’s a different story.
I have also always had an interest in international development, social issues, and education. This has led to me running numerous Random Hacks of Kindness events, giving talks on ICT4D, and volunteering as a STEM Ambassador. I recently organized a NodeCopter event with the local Makerspace and have talked about UAV technology to groups as diverse as 11-13 year olds to The Ladies Luncheon Club where the average age is 65.
Inspired by the recent DroneConference in the US, a coffee with the founder of ShadowView, and the enthusiasm of the UAV guy at Doctors Without Borders, I am now looking to reach out to similar minded people and see if maybe we can set up a Drone User Group chapter here in the UK? Founded in the US by Timothy Reuter, their tagline is: Promoting the Use of Civilian Drone Technology for the Benefit of Humanity. They also recently announced a drone social impact award. I contacted Timothy and he was very supportive of the idea.
I have always been a fan of autonomous flying machines, particular their civilian applications, and through my past work at the University I have been fortunate to be able to work on the design and building of UAVs. I have also been a keen attender of various meetups and hackathons .
I was therefore immediately sold when I heard about the Node Copter concept: getting together and see what you can make a Parrot AR Drone do by the end of the day using node.js. Best explained by video:
Both responded with a “hell yeah!” and after some prep Im happy to announce that you
can should sign up on the Eventbrite page:
The event will be held at the makerspace itself. There is a small attendance charge to avoid people signing up but not turning up.
Some prior coding experience (in whatever language) is required.
See you there!
A bit late after the fact but I have been meaning to do a short post about the latest UAV test flight. A new airframe was developed as part of the European 2Seas 3i project. 2Seas is an EU funded project looking at high reliability UAVs for civil and maritime surveillance.
Its a twin petrol engine aircraft with twin carbon fibre booms, an H-tail and modular payload pod. These pods can be specified to carry a range of cameras and overall endurance can be 12 hours or more. Twin on-board generators maintain the avionics capability for extended duration flights. All up weight is about 20kg.
There is so much polemic surrounding the use of drones these days that it can get frustrating for somebody who also sees the positive contributions the technology can make. Never mind the great potential unmanned technology has for driving innovation and getting youngsters interested in STEM (something that is severely needed).
Of course there are lots of questions to be raised about the use of unmanned systems (and remotely piloted aircraft in particular) in military conflict. These topics have been, and still are, debated at length in the media, wikipedia, and blogs such as DroneWarsUK. Instead, like Drones For Good, I will focus on some of the positive projects the technology has enabled in the humanitarian, environmental, and social space. I am not the only one who would welcome more balanced coverage here.
I realized I never really blogged about this, but the tools I put together were used to design another airframe. The mission was initially quite secretive but now I can reveal that we were working together with the BBC to develop a UAV that could be used to provide footage at the Olympics. As added bonus the Blue Peter show would be involved as well and run a competition to name the aircraft and provide a colorful design.
I gave an overview of the research I’m involved in in a previous post. In a nutshell its about looking at an agile design process for UAVs in the context of Search And Rescue (SAR) missions.
Part of the research involved building a detailed operational simulation model of the Solent area on the South coast of the UK. This simulation model is seeded with historical SAR incident information, weather patterns, as well as the locations of coast guard/RNLI stations & their capabilities. By running the simulation we can then analyze the spatial and temporal distribution of incidents, what the response times are, how often helicopters & lifeboats are needed, etc.
One of the greatest things about this job is that a couple times every year we head out to the airfield and test if the aircraft (a UAV) we have been working on will fly. Below two videos shot a couple of days ago. The civilian mission it will be used for is still hush-hush but it flew beautifully 🙂
Note the gimbal camera under the nose (orange dome) which can automatically lock onto a given object while flying.