I have had the good fortune of being involved in robotics projects at NASA Ames as an intern during four of the summer breaks while attending college. These projects are the MAX5 rovers, an autonomous ground vehicle made mostly from off-the-shelf parts and used by academic and government agencies; and the EAV unmanned airplane, a low-cost UAV used by NASA Ames for demonstration of experimental flight control algorithms.
I first became involved with these projects by attending RoboCamp. This was a short-lived educational program at Carnegie Mellon West. (now Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley) At RoboCamp I worked in a small team to build and program a MAX5-R rover. The project culminated in a demonstration where the rover navigated along a paved footpath using only vision recognition to sense the environment. The rover I assembled proved itself to be the most robust and reliable MAX5 rover at Carnegie Mellon West, and was therefore chosen for missions in both desert and arctic climates.
At the end of the program I was invited to return the following summer as an intern for the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Lab and continue my work with the MAX5 rovers. That following summer I was tasked with developing new sensor integration software for the higher performance MAX5-J rover. This software was to measure the speed of the drive motors using integrated hall-effect sensors, filter the results, and report this value to the main computer over a serial connection. This software was to be in FORTH, a completely foreign programming language to me. I became proficient in FORTH within one week and completed the project ahead of schedule. That summer I also repaired MAX5-R rovers and assisted with other projects occurring in the lab.
The next summer I again worked as an intern for the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Lab, but worked at a NASA Ames lab that used the MAX rovers. That summer was a paid internship. The project I worked on was the EAV (Experimental Aerial Vehicle). The EAV was a 1:4 scale radio controlled Cessna modified for autonomous flight and used to test experimental flight control software. The plane was later upgraded to a 1:2 scale Piper Cub. The lab was building two new planes that could carry a much larger computer and sensor package then the two previous planes. My first task was making computer models of the airframe in Solidworks. I also helped an employee of the lab learn to use Solidworks. My task for most of the summer was designing, fabricating, and installing a reinforcing structure for the fuselage. This structure stiffened the plane and provided secure mounting for the electronics. I also set up and broke down equipment during our frequent flight tests using an existing EAV.
The following summer I continued my internship at the EAV lab. I worked on a variety of projects related to EAV and MAX5. I developed procedures for using and debugging a new power control system on an EAV. I also wrote software to control a servo actuated tripod and record the EAV in flight. And I wrote the software for reading LIDAR sensors that were added to MAX5-A. (An upgraded version of MAX5-J) The LIDAR software I developed has been employed by several groups using MAX5 rovers.
My final summer as an intern for the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Lab I worked at the lab I originally started my internship. I spent that summer helping MAX5 customers apply the rover to their projects. I also demonstrated the rover to prospective customers.
During my five years of involvement with the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Lab I contributed greatly to the projects I was involved with, and gained immeasurable real-world experience in a fast-paced team environment.
Formula Hybrid SAE:
During college at Cal Poly Pomona I became involved with the Formula Hybrid SAE competition. This competition is an extension of the very popular Formula SAE competition. Formula Hybrid cars are single seat, open wheel racecars. The engine is either a 250cc gasoline electric hybrid or a 310cc diesel electric hybrid. In my first year of involvement I helped the team repair and maintain the previous year’s car, and bring it to events to attract sponsorship. In my second year I was the design captain for the electrical systems, and helped build the car and bring it to competition.
I was responsible for the design of all the electrical systems and in particular the control system that set the balance of power between the two engines. When we acquired our engine I was instrumental in deciphering the wiring schematics and starting the engine. Once the team started building the car I worked on the control boards, power distribution, the dashboard, the engine electronics, and the safety system. I also mediated conflicts between the groups working on the batteries, the frame, and the engine so that everybody’s designs worked together.
My involvement with Formula Hybrid SAE allowed me to apply the skills I had learned, and challenge myself by assuming a leadership role.