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.