Aerial autonomous systems competition: The humanity of doing things unmanned.by Don Lacey on Jul. 26, 2012, under Critical Thinking, Economics, Education, Environment, Ethics, Freethought, Freethought Events, History, Nature, Science, That's Life!
This is the 400th blog post. Certainly, I didn’t write all of them. In fact, I didn’t write most of the 122 postings that have been put up after I took over on March 5th. I’ve had help. Lots of help from Jim Wilson whose young and idealistic viewpoints have sparked so much controversy here on the FreeThought Arizona blog. I’ve also had help from Dr. Stephen Uhl who provided excerpts from his book Out of God’s Closet. Jerry Karches, the president of FreeThought Arizona provided and blog entry and I also recycled a couple of articles from Dr. Gil Shapiro who is FreeThought Arizona’s publicist. To complete the list I’d like to thank Ashley Thomas and Gregg Chmara for their submissions. Over the last few months I’ve tried a few things. It is my intention to have a blog that people with frequently visit and I watch the numbers of hits constantly to see what is working. Early on, I decided not to tolerate personal attacks from any source. This cut down the number of comments significantly but I think we can do without the name calling and challenging each other’s integrity. Arguments that go down that path are not productive in any case. For the most part the blog was received well.
The past couple of days have been hectic for me as I prepare to head to North Dakota to judge in an International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). It is held every year since 1991 and has always challenged college team mates to create an autonomous system to perform a seemingly impossible task. Most years the challenge was too much and in those years the prize money of $10,000 rolls over. One of the more difficult challenges took 8 years to solve and $80,000 was awarded to the winners that year. This year we’re up to $30,000 in prize money and the event is being held in two locations—North Dakota and Beijing, China—making it truly international. We’ve held the contest in various locations throughout the years. The first few were on the Georgia Tech campus. We’ve held the contest at the Epcot Center in Florida, the Hanford facility in Washington State, Calgary, Canada, Maryland, Fort Benning in Georgia, Puerto Rico, and now in North Dakota and China.
Unmanned systems are seemingly everywhere. It was an unmanned system that just cleared the booby trapped apartment of James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora tragedy. Unmanned systems are diving to the deepest parts of the ocean and they are overhead in many areas of the world serving as spies or in some cases military weapons. When I was in the Air Force my master’s thesis involved development of an unmanned research vehicle. I used unmanned aerial vehicles to test weapons sensors and I worked to develop one of the current spy planes—the Global Hawk. I was responsible for the development, integration, and testing of the aircraft’s payload which consisted of a radar, a high altitude camera, a satellite communications system, and a defensive avionics suite. It was exciting work but I don’t really think it helped my Air Force career that much—“Too heavy into UAVs.”
Way back in 1991, I started helping out Rob Michelson, then working for GTRI, with his Association of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (AUVS) sponsored Aerial Robotics Contest. Later on Rob would add the “international” to the AUVS and the contest. I hung around as a groupie, helping where I could until Rob realized that I might make a good judge and I’ve been doing that job since 1995—17 years.
The contest is in its 6th mission: The sixth mission of the International Aerial Robotics competition requires that a MAV weighing less than 1.5kg have the ability to enter and navigate within an unknown confined environment in search of a specific marked target without being detected. The mission also requires that the MAV locate and bring back a flash drive.
So how does this relate to Humanism? It is common to assign the dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs to unmanned systems. The first definition of Humanism is: any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate. What better way to protect human interests, values, and dignity than handing over all the nasty jobs to machines. Of course, that is not the only way that unmanned systems advance humanity. Let’s not forget that most of the satellites are unmanned. There are currently only a couple that aren’t. Then there are the space explorers, advancing human understanding of the solar system and soon space beyond our solar system. Finally consider how human interests are being advanced with the use of the unmanned Martian rovers.
So there you have it. Unmanned systems are providing humans with information about their past—in the case of the Underwater Unmanned Vehicles that explored the Titanic and our current reality—in the case of the multitude of vehicles exploring space, watching our environment, and providing communications and other services. With this contest, the unmanned vehicles are helping to create our future by challenging young engineers to do the seemingly impossible.
I’ll let you know how it all turns out.