Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A New Adventure!

We have just completed another long but satisfying FIRST robotics season.  Since only myself and my oldest son participate in FRC, as a family we tend to spend a lot of time apart during the season.  Toward the end of the season, our family started looking for a fun summer project we could do together that would satisfy our inner geeks.  The solution was obvious...

Build an Autonomous Weaponized Drone

And a big welcome to our government friends who have just joined us.  Before I get myself into too much trouble, I'll point out that this drone's meager weaponry won't be dangerous to anyone who is not a large red balloon.  You see, we have decided to enter Sparkfun's Autonomous Vehicle Competition.  We'll be competing in the arial vehicle class, and the tasks our autonomous flying machine will have to complete are: maneuver around obstacles, drop a tennis ball onto a target, and, if possible, find and pop the three large red balloons that will be randomly placed around the course.

This will not only give our family the chance to geek out together over the summer, but having never done any kind of R/C or flying robot project, we will be learning a bunch of new things.  And that is the key, right?  Never stop learning.

The Team and the Parts

The team name we picked is "Bitwise, Byte Foolish" and our drone will be officially named Nibble, although we've nicknamed it Splashy (the competition takes place over water!).  We will all be doing a bit of everything, but there will be some areas of main responsibility among the team (er... family).  I will be handing the hardware and electronics.  My wife Sondra and our younger son Matt will be responsible for programming the autonomous navigation and path planning.  Our older son Alex will be handling the computer vision programming that we plan to use to find and pop the balloons.

We have spent the last couple of weeks discussing and ordering most of the main components that we plan to use.  Now that school is over, we plan to start the project in ernest this week.  Sondra and I have taken the week off from work in order to focus on this project.  I cannot wait!

Here is a preview of some of the parts we've chosen:
  • The flight base will be a DJI F550 hex copter, pictured above.  This air frame is supposed to be sturdy and it fits our budget.
  • We will be using a Pixhawk autopilot (right) and GPS receiver from 3D Robotics.
  • We have selected a Taranis X9D transmitter and X8R receiver from FR Sky just in case we need to take manual control in an emergency.
  • And finally, the heavy lifting (from a computer vision standpoint) will be done by an Nvidia Jetson TK1 board, pictured below.
This is going to be fun.  We will be keeping everyone updated on our quest to actually get this thing airborne this week, so check back here to see how we're doing on this adventure.  I'm hoping that I can even talk Matt and Alex into writing an entry or two describing their parts in the project.  Fingers crossed.

I hope we'll end up with a drone we can be proud of when the AVC competition rolls around on June 21st.  I don't know how competitive we'll be, but if we can send a drone out to run the course and bring it back safely, I'll count that as a win!  Just please don't let it crash into the lake.  Did you hear that Splashy?

Next: Day One

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