Monday, December 17, 2012

Demo workshop with teachers from Shadyside Academy

On Thursday December 13th, three members of the Platypus team George, Abhinav, and David conducted our first High School training with Shadyside Academy. George and Abhinav went over the basics and we then proceeded to nearby Squaw Run Park for on the water training. All said, the training went extremely well. The boat even managed to break through some morning ice that was approx 1/4 inch thick! Shadyside Academy has a demo boat to utilize prior to getting their new boat which is in production now.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Platypus featured in Pittsburgh Business Times and in Robotics Trends

Check out the 4th page of Pittsburgh Business Times in this link and the slideshow here.
Article in Robotics Trends here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Energy Inc Conference and Trade Show

On Tuesday the 14th of August, thanks to Innovation Works who sponsored our attendance, the Platypus team took part in the Energy Inc Conference and Trade Show held at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. This event catered to many different investors, business executives as well as various energy companies.

The Keynote speaker for the event was Charles McConnell, the assistant secretary for fossil energy in the US Department of Energy, who is also a CMU Graduate. His address focused on the energy market in western Pennsylvania.
Many different companies had booth’s at the trade show. The focus was on energy sources whether it be gas, oil, coal wind or solar energy. Most of the people in attendance were investors, manufactures and service providers that support the creation of the regions energy marketplace.
Platypus had set up a booth where we spoke about the solar recharging station that is currently being developed. This solar recharging station will eliminate most of the need for human interaction with the boats and reduce the amount of maintenance needed. After the boats autonomously sample a body of water, they can return to their solar recharge station or as nicknamed the “Doghouse”, where solar energy will be used to recharge the batteries.
The attendees of the show were very interested in our boats and their capabilities. The Platypus team got a chance to met a lot of interesting people and made some new contacts to follow up on.
After a long day of pimping out the boats, team member Chris headed straight to the bar the second it opened, although another member Balajee was nowhere to be found.
Will we find out the reason for Balajee’s mysterious disappearance?
Stay Tuned for updates on the blog to find out!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Testing at Crooked Creek Lake

On Wednesday the 8th of August the CRW Team headed out to Crooked Creek Lake for some field testing to try out a few new boat designs and features that were added recently.

The sun was beating down by the time the team arrived and we were all eager to get underway with the testing. Initially the team did some basic testing with our GenX boats and were gearing up all 8 boats that we had taken in preparation to try tackle a new record of 8 boats in the water at the same time. 

The highlights of the day included the debut of two new boats nicknamed The “Rainbow” and “Camo”, designed by one of our interns for the summer, Ally. These two boats have many experimental features like rounded backs to reduce the chance of getting caught on banks and varying types of keel’s to analyze the affect they would have on the drag as well as hydroplaning. We were pleasantly surprised by the results. The camo boat went especially well, avoiding getting caught on banks and other obstacles. It displayed much better maneuverability while compared to the previous versions.

After the successful morning the team attempted to deploy all 8 boats at once with Abhinav at the helm under his umbrella setting autonomy tasks for all the boats.

After being continuously distracted by other boats coming in and out of the water we managed to deploy all the 8 airboats. Some of the boats exhibited unexpected behavior, likely caused by poor GPS signal. This prevented some of them from functioning properly while the team tested the boats fail safe mechanism.

After a few of us dipping our feet in the water and having a nice BBQ lunch, the airboats were back out on the water to test the new obstacle avoidance. This test was highly anticipated as the team had specially built an obstacle to put out in the water. This test was partially successful although we had certain drawbacks due to a large amount of false positives identified, which caused the boats to unnecessarily change course.

The team then began sampling using one of the GenX boats. The boat was equipped a temperature sensor, a specific conductivity sensor and a dissolved oxygen probe. An overlay of the sampling plots obtained from this test is shown below. While there wasn't much spatial change in the specific conductivity, there was significant variation in temperature and dissolved oxygen. The specific conductivity varied from 0.522 dS/m to 0.538 dS/m, while the dissolved oxygen varied from 7.8 mg/L to 8.4 mg/L. The average temperature was 29.9753 °C.

Map generated from sampling showing the variation in dissolved oxygen in mg/L

Map generated from sampling showing the variation in specific conductivity in dS/m

Map generated from sampling showing the variation in temperate in °C

Overall there were many promising results obtained from this field test and everyone headed back to CMU in the late afternoon with smiles on our faces.

Stay tuned for more on the CRW Project!

FSR 2012

One of our co-founders of Platypus LLC, Abhinav Valada flew to Japan on the 16th of July to present a paper on the boats at the 8th International Conference on Field and Service Robotics (FSR 2012). The conference was held in Matusushima, which is known to be one of the most beautiful places in Japan. 

FSR is a conference where researchers from all over the world working in area of field and service robotics come to report of their recent scientific and technological development. Papers on several exciting projects such as autonomous navigation of cars and deployment of robots in the Fukushima nuclear power plant were presented. Abhinav presented a paper entitled "Development of a Low Cost Multi-Robot Autonomous Marine Surface Platform". This paper details on the hardware as well as software of our boats, while presenting results from several field experiments. The paper can be found here


Platypus also had a booth at the conference, where we showcased one of our boats along with several posters on various applications in which our boats have been used. People had many things to say about our boats, they were most commonly described as “Innovative” and “Cool”. Disaster nearly struck when getting off the plane in Japan Abhinav noticed that part of the propulsion assembly broke during the flight although he quickly got to work and initiated some speedy repairs that had the boat back up and running by the conference.

During the conference, in order to give a sense on just how helpful robotics technology could be to some search and rescue operations, they took the conference attendees to a town that was one of the most affected due to the tsunami in 2011. Some parts of this town was still submerged and several thousands are still missing.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Energy Inc.

On August 14th, Platypus will be showing the robots at Energy Inc. in Pittsburgh.  Event Info.  Come and visit our booth!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Location Scouting

On Monday the 23rd CMU’s Civil Engineering Department headed out bright and early on their annual water sampling trip, but this year they were accompanied by CRW team member Arnav who tagged along to assist and do some location scouting. The goal was to find some new places for the CRW team to go out testing with the air boats.

There were more than 10 stops over the whole day but after a strict inspection of all of the different locations Arnav identified 4 possible new locations for boat testing which were Dunkard Creek, Whiteley Creek, Ten Mile Creek and finally Redstone Creek.

The other 7 water treatment sites didn't fit the bill as they were not viable for boat launches which naturally is quite the setback when working with boats. Nevertheless the rest of the CRW team is looking forward to trying out these new locations!

Stay Tuned for more blogs to come on our testing in some of these new locations! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NACo Annual Conference and Exposition


Last Sunday the team packed up and headed out to Heinz field and set up a booth to participate in the 2012 National Association of Counties Annual Conference and Exposition. All kinds of people attended from several surrounding counties and states to check out all of the local start up businesses based in Pittsburgh that revolve around energy and technology solutions. 

It took the team two hours to get the pool inflated but eventually we did and the demonstrations started. Many people came to see the airboats and the afternoon was spent answering questions and making the boats manoeuvre around in the small blow up pool. 

All was going well and we could even hear Alice Cooper performing from next door at Stage AE when disaster struck and our team member Balajee fell into the pool. Luckily, as there was less than 3 feet of water the risk of drowning was minimal.

With Balajee recovered from his near death experience the day came to an end. The team packed up and pool was emptied all of over the area much to the relief of Balajee.

Stay tuned for more of the action within the CRW project!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lights, Camera, Airboat!

On Friday the 13th, the team was lucky enough to play host to the Science Channel who had taken notice of the work Platypus has been doing and decided to shoot an episode of "Through the Wormhole" on Paul, Platypus and the CRW project.

The Science Channel's show "Through the Wormhole" is narrated by Morgan Freeman and has been on Air since 2010, so the team was very excited to hear the news that Platypus would get to appear in an upcoming episode in the next season. As the day came around the team went out to Panther Hollow equipped with seven working and camera ready boats to do some demonstrations. The demonstrations went well especially the testing of the fail safe in which the boats where all the boats were simultaneously called back to a single point as well as the waypoint testing where the boats were sent in a lawn mower motion. Another improvement was the Led Acid batteries that were used lasted much longer when compared to the previously used Nickel–metal hydride battery.

The day was very successful although we encountered some slight problems with a few of the boats shutting down due to overheating and having some speed issues while instructing boats to avoid obstacles.

In addition to our original boats two out of the seven were part of a newly debuted generation and model of boats that are lighter and have a different shape of hull which produces less drag and cuts through the water more efficiently. 

The team displayed the boats ability to communicate with each other in order to explore large bodies of water as well as all of the basic functions.  The team shared the information and results that had been gathered as well as explaining and the usefulness and meaning of these results so people could obtain insight into how these airboats can be utilized for many different applications. Finally after 8 Hours of filming Paul was exhausted from being interviewed and the team was exhausted from watching him being interviewed.

Stay tuned for more blogs soon and,

Watch out for Platypus coming to a TV screen near you next Summer! 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Platypus, Politics, And Perpetual Motion

Although our blog has been quiet the past few months, things here at the CRW project headquarters have been anything but. The team made another trip back to Shelby Fish Farms in Ohio to test a bounded filter we developed to deal with the hysteresis of the dissolved Oxygen sensor and spent countless hours at our local Panther Hollow lake debugging and evaluating the algorithm. The end result was a sampling technique with significantly faster convergence than previously used algorithms when applied with a high hysteresis sensor. Our work on this filter will be presented at the 5th International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Automation this October.

In other news, the CMU CRW project has officially spun off into a startup company; we are now all employees of Platypus LLC., a company which provides an environmental monitoring service using the CRW platform. Check out our logo below:
Our New Company Logo
You may be wondering why we chose to name ourselves after a egg-laying, duck-billed mammal indigenous to Eastern Australia. Platypus are typically thought of in Australia as an animal composed of odd variety of parts: a duck bill, a mostly marsupial reproductive system with the caveat that it lays eggs, waterproof fur, webbed feet, and even its own venom. As such, it is a difficult animal to categorize for taxonomists. Similarly, it is equally difficult to pin a single classification on the CRW platform; one one hand, it is simply a bunch of phones in floating enclosures serving as a mobile sensor network, yet on the other hand it is a full-fledged autonomous multi-agent system. Throw in the heightened pollution sensitivity of a platypus and the fact that it can sense electric fields with its bill, and it makes for a very appropriate mascot. Stay tuned to the blog for more information about Platypus LLC. and links to our company website once we get it up and running.

As part of our startup efforts, we at Platypus have participated in several events over the past week geared at promoting our company and establishing connections for contracts and collaboration. On Thursday of last week the Secretary of Labor for the United States, Hilda Solis, visited CMU to announce a grant to support local manufacturing. Platypus participated in a showcase of local startup companies where we got the chance to talk to the Secretary and show off our boats. The Secretary was quoted as saying, "There’s so many great applications that I saw demonstrated, whether it’s robotics, health care, education — oh my God. I’m just amazed.” Although she didn't mention us by name, its certain that the CRW platform deserves most of the credit for her amazement.

US Secretary of Labor Visits CMU (Courtesy

Also last week, Platypus and a contingent from the CMU Robotics Institute headed to the Inpex Invention Convention, the largest invention trade show in America, to present Platypus to the world and further expand our network of customers and collaborators. At the fair we saw many new inventions and products ranging from a system for wireless power transmission using microwaves to robots for investigating gas pipelines. We even met one individual with a solution for perpetual motion. Unfortunately, he was reluctant to reveal the details of the system to us before he patented his device.
Platypus and CMU at the Inpex Invention Convention
Finally, we put together a new video summarizing much of our work so far on the CRW platform:

Lots of things are going on so check back soon for updates. We promise not to wait 3 months for our next post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring at Shelby Fish Farm, OH

Last year our team travelled to the Philippines to test the CRW platform in a wide range of realistic flood conditions. During our time there we had to opportunity to deploy on Lake Taal, a volcanic lake home to a large segment of the Philippines aquaculture industry. We learned that the crop of fish had recently been devastated by an unexpected rise in water temperature and subsequent drop in dissolved oxygen content (read more in some of our previous posts). This experience first motivated our investigation into using the CRW platform for distributed monitoring of dissolved oxygen content in bodies of water that are used for aquaculture. Most of the aquaculture industry use aerated ponds where a diffused air system is used to aerate the pond multiple times a day to replenish the oxygen. Farm operators usually take hand measurements at a few edges of the pond and estimate the disolved oxygen in the entire pond. This is highly inaccurate as there is some amount of spatial variation and most of the time operators end up over-aerating the pond. If we can estimate the spatial variation of disolved oxygen in the pond, the operators can more accurately estimate when to aerate and potentially save huge amounts of electricity consumed by the diffused air system.  


Early this year our team headed to Shelby Fish Farm in western Ohio to put the boats to the test and see how well the system could map spatial and temporal variations of dissolved oxygen content in the water. Equipped with the Atlas-Scientific dissolved oxygen sensor, the airboats gathered data autonomously using random, lawnmower, and highest uncertainty sampling patterns. Some of the data gathered is presented below.

Spatial variation of D.O in Shelby Fish Farm,OH

Hysteresis effect observed in 10m X 10m area

Analysis on the data revealed that the sensor suffered from the hysteresis effect in which the sensor responds slower than the rate of change of the variable that is being observed in the field. Spatial measurements obtained using most electrode type sensors exhibit this effect. This effect can be compensated by intelligent sampling techniques that predict the rate of change and take measurements in an adaptive way. It was also observed that some of the data collected was corrupted with a lot of random noise. Further investigation revealed that the noise was introduced into the system due to the mechanical shock caused by the sensors bumping against hulls in the boats' wakes. However in the non-corrupted data, we observed spatial variations in dissolved oxygen throughout the ponds. This suggests a potential opportunity for using the CRW platform to monitor large aquaculture areas to efficiently generate up-to-date maps of dissolved oxygen content and identify areas in need of re-oxygenation. By mounting the sensors rigidly below the waterline, we hope to eliminate the noise caused repeated shocks to the sensor and verify our findings. We will test this theory when we head back to Shelby Fish Farm this weekend to gather more data and test the additional sampling algorithms that we have developed to compensate for the hysteresis effect.

Above is a video of 4 boats autonomously collecting D.O data.

Heres a video below on a manual sampling technique by the State Water Resources Control Board.