THE TAU AUTONOMY CENTER CHALLENGE
(TAC 2021 - )
The Tau Autonomy Center Challenge (TAC Challenge) is a newly started international robotics competition whose goal is to get students working on the cutting-edge challenges of industrial drone applications. Through the TAC Challenge, students are challenged to tackle complex problems facing industry like autonomous mapping, the creation and usage of digital twins, anomaly detection using AI, as well as robust weatherproof drone designs, and excellent operational procedures. From 2021 to 2022, Ascend has been victorious twice in a row, and we are ready to take on future challenges as the best Norwegian team!
Solan & Ludvig, 2022
Solan & Ludvig are two identical drones made for the TAC challenges 2022.
While Solan is the leading contestant drone, Ludvig is the twin brother of Solan for emergency backup. Both of them are the upgraded version of our first outdoor drone Marlin. The hardware and software structure is similar to the Marlin model but with various optimizations. The essential improvement is the integration of the Airborne Optical Sectioning (AOS) imaging technique, which enabled a better multispectral imaging system in addition to the original thermal camera.
Compared to Marlin, Solan & Ludvig can autonomously resume flight from the last waypoint during a battery swap. This optimization was particularly inspired by the “peeing drone” concept when attaching a leaking water tank. The idea is that the dynamic weight of the water-leaking drone eliminates the need to land and take off repeatedly, thus, a similar improvement was made for our AI.
Marlin is our first outdoor drone designed for remote operations for TAC challenges.
Adapting to TAC mission scenarios, Marlin is our first drone to open up a new software pipeline in autonomous operations: AI decision-making and autopilot. The built-in AI system utilizes a “Superfluid” state machine and MAVROS package to enable extended flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). For terrain mappings and detections, Marlin comes with thermal imaging with the data from YOLO models. Other key characteristics include a powerline avoidance system and a failsafe mechanism.
The main frame is equipped with a custom antenna and various sensors for a gimbal, RGB thermal camera, Real Time Kinematic (RTK), and Pixhawk-based flight controller. The key takeaway from the name Marlin is its survivability under harsh weather conditions. This means that external hardware is made of waterproofing materials. In addition, Marlin is a lightweight A3 drone weighing only 2.4 kg with all essential accessories. Adapting to TAC mission scenarios, the drone can carry out regular flights with an additional 2.2 kg weight.
After winning first prize at the 2021 TAC challenge, Marlin is now retired as an outdoor test drone.