A Month in the Life of Ascend NTNU
November 15th 2022
Welcome to a month in the life of an aerial robotics team at Trondheim, Norway!
Exams are closing in, and we hope everyone’s doing good while gearing up for exam season. Here at Ascend we’ve been making progress, and it’s about time to reveal what we’ve been working on!
In November, we held a 5 hours long annual Concept Review with all Ascend members. We invited our remote sponsors, NTNU professors, and some curious students to roast our software and hardware designs for 2023’s SUAS competition. In the following sections, I'll show you exactly what we have done up until this point.
Remember the Minecraft boys? After finishing their Minecraft project with ROS 2, Autonomy began testing drone features in the Ascend simulator.
Inspired by their passion for games, our alumni built the simulator from scratch to develop autonomous drones in customizable virtual environments. Some of them stayed and are now carrying the new Autonomy to up their game.
“You fools, beating Minecraft is only the tutorial.” Eivind pulled out his Jira logs, “now watch and learn.” As he completed tasks over tasks, Bendik and Bård were mind-blown by how much depth they have reached so far. In one month, they accomplished the following:
- Tested existing Ardupilot SITL integration.
- Tested and researched PX4 SITL integration.
- Tested competition scenarios for both IARC 9 and SUAS 23.
- Added proximity sensor emulation.
- Added PX4 autopilot prototype with network support.
- Added ROS 2 node for the proximity sensor. The node communicates drone behavior messages for face-hugging mechanics.
- Added flight controller and UI/menus.
- Added in-house pathfinding algorithm for SUAS 23 mission.
- Installed and played Mario Kart on the big screen.
Now let’s check out the squad of computer vision! During our first system checkup, Perception’s object detector ran into some issues with runtime upon startup. This caused a delay in our full-scale test in early October. Fortunately, Mikkel and Bartosz made a new TensorRT-based object detector after three weeks of working around the clock.
So far, the new detector is a configurable ROS 2 node which will be improved for 5 unique object detection tasks in 3 grand competitions. Therefore the team has also been creating new datasets and YOLO models for tools, equipment, and standard/emergent objects. Behind the scenes, these tasks are mostly done through a real-time streaming camera — Big Brother:
It’s very impressive! And as you can see… it works flawlessly… always.
Here’s something interesting! Control refined our custom flight controller unit (FCU). As the bridge between our drone and the ground station, they fixed some hardware issues with telemetry, GPS, and radio. Moreover, Jørgen upgraded Hardware’s motion table code for mast interactions.
On top of that, the team has been upskilling their piloting precision through virtual flights.
Besides flying in the simulator, the team also performed some real-life position tracking with Motion Capture (Mocap) technology. The rest of the team implemented the tracking results as GPS coordinates onto our “speedy boi” test drone. Then, Control was able to start contributing on further mechanics such as object avoidance and antenna tracker.
Control’s work perfectly complements Autonomy’s blindspots, providing more precise movements and smoother communication of sensory inputs.
Meet the new expansion to Ascend! DevOps continued their journey to make Ascend’s programming cycle smarter and safer. Their responsibilities focus less on our drones, but more on Ascend’s VPN, data securities, and code automation. Since September, Alexandra Hugli and Marius Arder have been hitting the books on AWS-cloud applications to maintain our database. In addition, cyber genuis Shayan Alinejad has been spilling the beans to the new team on professional cable management.
While continuously gatekeeping our classified secrets, DevOps will also start building 4G networks and data linkers for our drones.
Despite having multiple software teams on digital features, it is up to the Hardware team to ultimately build our drone's physical components. To warm up and flex their skills, Hardware spent their first working month in preparation for a Robokrig tournament hosted by Omega Verksted.
For Erik Gaberialsen and Filip Paw, designing PCBs and making electronic schematics are almost cakewalks. The only adjustment they made was to use SMD components instead of hybrid technology. Thus, they can fit in a strong and durable chassis on the inside but remain agile on the outside.
With a 3D printer in our workshop, Hauk Bjørneklett single-handedly made the wheels with CAD. However, he also spent some time finding a link between wheels and motors.
And so, after a rough previous year where we only got 2nd place, it is a pleasure to announce that we’ve reclaimed the title of Robowars champions!
Now, after a good warm-up, Hardware is ready to get to work on the SUAS drone.