A project I have been thinking about and wanting to do for a very long time is to build a fully autonomous litter collecting robot. This driven by the annoyance I always feel when passing a nearby park, littered with Twix wrappers, coke cans, and the like. Challenging? Very much so. Impossible? No. You just have to pick your constraints.
I wish this was the blog post I would explain how I built the robot and how it all works, including snazzy youtube video. However, while I have already started down the path I still have a long (but fun!) way to go. In particular my Orangutans have been keeping me busy and will continue to do so for a while. I have also changed my professional affiliation but that’s a topic for the next post. It does explain though why my interest was piqued when Peter Kohler (GIS expert from SESexplore, and Fishackathon fame) told me about his project to raise awareness around marine litter. And that is the real topic of this post.
About a year and a half ago I saw Jetpac’s video of their Spotter app and I remember thinking at the time that it would be so cool to get this flying on a drone. I didn’t have the bandwidth to work on it at the time but ended up poking at it with Markus Aschinger at the ASI and with two A level students (Jawad / Isaac) from the Nuffield Foundation. While they did good work and it got me a step closer, it still hadn’t quite come together. Hence I sat down the past week to do a full rewrite, integrate it with a quad I had lying around and do a little demo. The result can be seen in the video below.
The last in a series of 3 posts (one, two) around the UAV based GPR system I have been working on.
There are many applications for GPR but the one I have been focussing on the most has been landmine and UXO detection. GPR is a popular sensor for this but by no means the only one. From big complex neutron sources to small thermal cameras and magnetometers a wide variety of sensors have been developed to detect landmines.
While we were focussing on GPR I wanted to explore what other sensors we could mount or fly alongside the GPR and that could provide a complimentary picture. This then crystallised into a summer project for Skycap intern Alex Davey. After some in-depth research into the spectrum of relevant sensors the decision was made to experiment with an active EMI sensor (i.e., metal detector).
Besides the machine learning angle discussed in the previous post, the UAV based GPR system that I have been working on has involved an interesting foray into robot swarming technology. The reason being that the sensor places a number of restrictions on the operation of the aerial robot. In particular the swath that can be covered in one pass is rather limited. There are different routes to ameliorating that and one of them is the use of multiple drones to increase coverage rates.
I recently had the honour of attending the MSF Canada AGM in Montreal to join Ivan Gayton and Stephen Mather (from Open DroneMap fame) run a drone day for the MSF logisticians. The aim being to show the realm of the possible with current drone technology as well as touch on future trends and ethical considerations.
A second agenda we had was to promote the democratisation of drone technology to enable crowd sourced imagery collection as part of the Missing Maps initiative. More specifically, the goal is to bring drone technology down to a level where it can be built, maintained, and operated safely, responsibly, and independently by a local high school in South Sudan, the local University of Lubumbashi, or similar.
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 thepast, 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.
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 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:
I got in touch with Benjie (from So Make It) and Andy Nesbitt (who has run a number of these) asking them if they were interested in helping organize one in Southampton.
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 severelyneeded).
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 themedia, 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.