IMAV 2011: Towards all-weather MAV swarms

EMAV 2009 Outdoor competition location at The Hague, Netherlands

Or slightly rephrased: The IMAV 2011 summer edition rules are out (original post). IMAV2011 is actually a perfect showcase why IMU-based autopilots plus onboard computer vision are a good choice for MAV competitions. And it is also a good occasion to mention the currently running pxIMU batch order, limited to October 20! You can get your own competition-proven , computer-vision ready research autopilot. For the time after the batch order: We provide all participants of the batch order the hardware design on request, so that they can build more hardware if needed later (and we'll offer future batch orders if feasible). The design files will also be made available GPL-ish licensed at some point early 2011.

Now back to IMAV 2011 itself: Why all-weather and swarms? The competition location in The Netherlands can be quite cloudy and windy in September, like in the last Delft-competition, the EMAV 2009. Although there was no rain, virtually no fixed-wing team was able to fly autonomously, as all relied on thermopiles. This time RC-based flight is banned, so any team sticking to thermopiles is taking chances! By now there are some hackable IMU-based fixed wing autopilots around (ArduPilot, UAVDevBoard v3 and soon pxIMU). We actually hope for similar weather conditions in 2011: An overcast sky provides computer-vision-optimal diffuse lighting (perfect to e.g. locate pylons using pxOvero) and by using pxIMU or any other IMU-based autopilot, the attitude estimation does not depend any more on a more or less clear sky.

And why swarms? Because the IMAV 2011 rules actually encourage teams to run multiple vehicles. We're really happy about this development, because the complete PIXHAWK framework is optimized towards swarm-use. Ongoing research in the team involves mesh-based image transmission (which would allow to transmit images over multiple hops (a chain of MAVs) to a base station). QGroundControl has also been optimized to scale to multiple vehicles from early on. For details on the rules, please refer to the preliminiary rules PDF.
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  • I agree with your conclusions. Teams will be tempted to run multiple systems. On the other hand however, I think one can expect teams to manage this as part of the engineering process. Even without multiple vehicles, many teams ultimately fly by manual remote because autonomy didn't work. I think those properly managing the engineering process will know what they're doing on multiple vehicles.

    Traditionally also almost no one ever tried all tasks. 90% of teams (including us) pick the one or two tasks that work well for them and focus on them. After all the biggest risk is not to score not enough points, but to not be able to liftoff at all. Having a (reasonably small) vehicle airborne brings you pretty close to victory already.

    And yes, it would be indeed interesting to see the difference between IR and IMU systems. On the other hand I'm still convinced that a cloudy sky should not limit the usability of an MAV and like you mentioned IMUs are by now not more expensive than thermopiles. Even if current IMU designs might be still immature, from that perspective it makes sense to accept some alpha designs and early failures. If the whole field moves on to the new technology, safe, robust and proven designs will automatically result.
  • Hi, interesting preliminary rules...
    It will be interesting how they really account for using different vehicles. For sure you would use a VTOL vehicle for the arch and ballon part and probably the dropping. And a fixed wing for the endurance driven observation... But I don´t see the point at the moment other then forcing people to take several platforms with them. I don´t think this will lead to the developement of better systems (what should be the reason for this kind of contests), on the contrary I imagine teams having several unfinished systems...

    And regarding IR-based autopilot systems... Most people know the limitations. They are used for many projects and have flown many times more hours then all open IMU projects. So I would hope for good weather that there can be a real comparison of the systems. When the IMU´s get to a price (they nearly are) and a reliability (this takes some hours to prove) like the IR´s , they will be out. We will see...
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