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Cornell Builds Autonomous UAV 400

Posted by michael
from the million-and-one-uses dept.
tshak writes "From Microsoft Research, 'Faculty and students at Cornell University have built an unmanned airplane with its own on-board, embedded control system. The large-scale model plane flies by accessing coordinates from an off-the-shelf GPS unit.' Not only does the plane run XP embedded, but the software is written in C# on the .NET Compact Framework. This is all powered by an 800mhz Crusoe processor with 1GB of total system storage."
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Cornell Builds Autonomous UAV

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  • by philbowman (707419) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:36AM (#9898397)
    Duck!
  • by tdemark (512406) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:36AM (#9898400) Homepage
    ...to the term "crash"
  • Ugh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by suso (153703) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:36AM (#9898401) Homepage Journal
    I fear the onslaught of 1001 jokes about this plane crashing.
    • Re:Ugh. (Score:3, Funny)

      by Phisbut (761268)
      Too late... 4 of the 7 first posts imply crashing :-P
  • here we go (Score:2, Funny)

    by Sanity (1431)
    <Insert jokes about UAV flying into building during garbage collection here>
  • by dpeltzm1 (706854) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:42AM (#9898461)
    Haven't seen the EULA for XP embedded but the consumer one says do not use for 'mission critical' applications. somehow an airplane seems kinda critical? sounds more like VxWorks or QNX would be appropriate.
  • by Obiwan Kenobi (32807) <evanNO@SPAMmisterorange.com> on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:42AM (#9898462) Homepage
    "Hello, this is your pilot software speaking. We've encountered an unknown error as a result from an unknown error.

    Please click OK to crash."
  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kalirion (728907) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:42AM (#9898463)
    11 out of 14 posts so far have been modded down as Flamebait, Troll, Redundant, or Off Topic. Is this usual? In any case, how long until these little plains are fitted with a collision detection and avoidance system? Flying based on checkpoints is all fine and well if you're the only one in the sky, but othrewise its equivalent to a blind person without a dog or a cane walking down a street he knows very well.
    • Well, a "a collision detection and avoidance system" that doesn't rely on ATC needs sensors (3-D radar, or IR plus laser) that are big and expensive. Typically, these aren't even used on $100M airliners, much less uni research projects.
      • Well, I would think something could be done with the gps data along with altitude data to give a warning, at least for collisions with other planes. A building/mountain collision detection could be done with accurate maps of the flight area.
        • Given the inertia displayed by the entire commercial-aircraft community (manufacturers, pilots, the aviation administrations), I'd say there's a good chance hell will freeze over before that happens.
  • ...more RC airplanes flying through our windows.

    Tim
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://avdil.gtri.gatech.edu/AUVS/IARCLaunchPoint. html [gatech.edu]

    "This year the best performances were executed by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona (first year in the Competition). The Georgia Institute of Technology's autonomous helicopter demonstrated "Level 2 behavior" (finding a particular building from among many and then identifying all of the real openings in the building through which they could send in a sensor probe) during a series of three flights comprising more than a
  • This guy [jhuapl.edu] beat them to it, sending an UAV over the Atlantic.
  • by panxerox (575545) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:48AM (#9898510)
    And the difference between this and a cruise missile [bbc.co.uk] is what exactly?
    • And the difference between this and a cruise missile is what exactly?

      Cruise missiles cost billions in taxpayers money.
      • Read the link (Score:2, Informative)

        by Computerguy5 (661265)
        Apparently you didn't read the link. I shouldn't be surprised, this is slashdot. =P

        Anyway, that was an interesting story posted on slashdot a loooong time ago. THe guy bought off-the-shelf (Internet) components online and used them to cheaply assemble an autonomous cruise missle in his garage to prove that such a thing is a legitimate threat potentially weilded by terrorists. Unfortunately, governments of the world largely ignore this threat, and New Zealand even decided that, although they considered w
        • Why spend time and money building a cruise missile (which would have to be pretty big to deliver the amount of explosives required), when you can send a suicidal maniac with a truck instead?
    • Re:Cruise missile (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clintp (5169)
      And the difference between this and a cruise missile is what exactly?Cruise missles aren't designed to land and take off again another day.
  • by naznerd (227480) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:49AM (#9898520)
    Small GPS controlled planes are old news. Check out the TAM project. Trans Atlantic Model. They flew a model plane across the Atlantic Ocean last year. Check it out here -> http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3145577.stm [bbc.co.uk]
  • CUUAV (Score:5, Informative)

    by UMhydrogen (761047) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:49AM (#9898521) Homepage
    One of my friends is one of the leads on the project for Cornell University. He was the one who designed the site and a bunch of other things on the plane.

    Yes, they were given grant money from Microsoft, but that wasn't the only influence in their decisions. They've put long hard hours into the plane. XP Embedded does allow them to add functionality to the plane. A lot of companies have given then grants and sponsorships that have allowed them to build the plane. Don't forget this is Cornell here and they're not going to just rely on Microsoft to make the plane run. They also weren't attempting to make a "real" plane - this is still an UAV which isn't meant to have the power of a full aeronautical vehicle.

    Unfortionatly one of their planes was destroyed in a fire at a hotel in Maryland while they went down to show off the plane. Luckily, their backup plane that is still being built was not destroyed.

    • They also weren't attempting to make a "real" plane - this is still an UAV

      By "real", do you also mean a plane that will carry passengers? Do you plan to tell these passengers that the plane is powered by Microsoft?
      How do you propose to get people on board? I guess even if you don't tell the passengers, the pilot(s) will know. How will you get someone to fly the damned thing? Cattle prods? Money? Booze? Naked women? Get-out-of-jail free?

      How would you make money with a Microsoft airplane? W
  • Obviously the Microsoft Research link gives away the "why", but I really want to know why the overhead of .NET? Why not just compile it to "real" C++, build some machine code, and stick it on a chip? Doesn't that make more sense than .NET? Plus, I'd like to toss in my $.02 that 1GB is totally insane for an embedded system. The space shuttle doesn't need that much for its automated stuff.
    • from the article:
      The system runs off two 512 MB compact flash cards, which provides a storage system with no moving parts able to withstand up to 10,000 Gs. One compact flash card holds the operating system in a protected write mode, while the other stores a real-time flight log - a 'black box' that can be examined to diagnose problems, even if the vehicle crashes.

      epic
    • I suspect that the reason for going with this apparent overkill in hardware and operating system is ease of development for their prototype. While it's true that a much smaller embedded system would likely be chosen if light weight and low power (and ultimately, efficiency and hardware cost in a "finished" system) were at issue, the choice of a development system with a GUI, a high-level programming language and all those useful things like an IDE with a debugger makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of
    • And how many shuttles are flying these days? :-P
  • Imagine it with passengers...."This is your pilot software speaking, please assume the appropriate position for a reboot."
  • From the story:

    The students modified the vehicle for unmanned flight by replacing the factory tail with a custom lifting tail, which moved the center of gravity further towards the rear of the plane.

    Doesn't adding lift to the rear of an aircraft move the center of lift, which is different from the center of gravity ???

    Also from the the story:

    ... the wings on the airframe had a heavier than designed for load.

    Understand, I am not.

  • by FJ (18034)
    We can't completely automate air traffic control systems. We can't even upgrade air traffic control systems made decades ago because of the fear of software bugs.

    So let's try to make plan that can fly by itself.

    No thanks. I like my pilots well trained, well paid, happy & human.
  • Beyond academic exercise, what is the purpose of such a vehicle? Military, and they already have one of these. To me, this is like the nut in New Zealand who builds cruise missiles for fun and games. Sure there are lots of "wild" ideas, but in reality, most of these problems have been solved by existing technology (which in fact this is).
  • Make way... (Score:4, Funny)

    by selderrr (523988) on Friday August 06, 2004 @08:58AM (#9898612) Journal
    for the first airborne trojan horse !

    Now all it needs is WiFi, and it can mass infect :-)
  • Mean-spirited (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Snart Barfunz (526615) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:00AM (#9898622)
    Not to come over all gee-whiz and so on, but how relentlessly negative these posts are. The students deserve some congratulations for successfully completing an impressive piece of work. Maybe they didn't go the most efficient/difficult/brag-worthy route. So what? Everything they've learned will be useful, regardless of what hardware/software they end up using in the 'real' world. They probably had fun and have achieved something real, instead of just sitting back criticising.

    Good point about the cruise missile though...
    • Re:Mean-spirited (Score:4, Insightful)

      by philbowman (707419) * on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:10AM (#9898727)
      Yes - at least they produced something original. :-)

      Congratulations to them.

      OTOH, if they had used Linux, everyone would have just gone on about how great it was that they'd used Linux, not how clever that they'd got the UAV to work. Can't win...

    • Re:Mean-spirited (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dave420 (699308) on Friday August 06, 2004 @11:55AM (#9900258)
      That's the thing - they did use the most efficient/difficult/brag-worthy route to completion. Any other route (including linux) would have required a LOT more work, more than they could have been expected to do. Crusoe chips and 1gb of memory could fit in your hand and you'd not notice. We're talking two small wafers of electronics. They didn't bolt a P4 to the side, but came up with an elegant embedded solution, which can talk to every piece of hardware they need it to, and be small enough to fly where ever they tell it to. If they'd been using linux for the project (with all due respect) they'd probably have spent more time getting linux to talk to the various peripherals than making the flying vehicle itself.

      Credit where credit's due - it's a truly great feat of engineering.

  • type of hardware. Do they at least have a cool case mod? I'm really not quite sure what the point of this was?
  • Avionics software, GPS, and the OS are just the testbed, all pretty standard and could be swapped out for something more robust. The control software the decides where and how to conduct it's mission is the interesting part. If it can locate a particular house or vehicle, the conduct smart surveillance and return to the home base, who cares what the OS is?
  • Seems to me some of this technology might be able to be put to good use for the DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 [darpa.mil], in which autonomous vehicles race across the U.S. desert, driven by their waypoints and obstacle avoidance systems. I'm not at all surprised Cornell is doing some of this autonomous vehicle research.

    Last year, The Ohio State University [osu.edu]'s TerraMax [oshkoshtruck.com] and Carnegie Mellon [cmu.edu]'s Red Team [cmu.edu] did very well at the DARPA Grand Challenge. Here's some good coverage [scienceblog.com] on Science Blog [scienceblog.com]. There was some other really good
  • 800 mhz? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Valkyre (101907) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:05AM (#9898676) Journal
    In my day, when we wanted mobile computing power, we had to do it with a 6 Mhz Z80 [ticalc.org]. I mean really, you DONT need a desktop computer for waypoint flying.

    CPU Usage for UAV
    XP Embedded - 35%
    Waypoint system - 1%
    Flight Control System - 2% (It's written in C# with .net framework)
    Seti@home client - 62%

  • First, the desktop with Windows, then the lands (they own a looot), then the consoles with Xbox, then the Tv with the Media Center PC... now.. like Xbox is not beating PS2, they came up with the idea of monopolizing the "a la Terminator" flying killing automated things.

    I'm all forward it... mainly because I'm against war, and all it'd would take to stop an invasion would be to attack one of the millions of security flaws their embedded IE probably has... by the time they released the patch at http://planeu
  • by SilentReproach (91511) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:06AM (#9898686)
    But XP embedded is actually a very useful product. It is something that should be released as an option to run desktop systems, as it can be modularized and stripped of nearly all Microsoftiness (Messenger, IE, you name it). Just want the XP OS with full GUI, no frills? XP embedded fits the bill. We use it for a custom application here and it's just what the DOJ ordered.
  • Clippy? (Score:3, Funny)

    by barcodez (580516) on Friday August 06, 2004 @09:14AM (#9898741)
    Clippy: It looks like you are flying a plane, would you like some help?
  • A lot of people don't seem to like that they've done it with what is effectively a small desktop machine.

    Listen, it's all very well complaining that they didn't do the whole thing with $50 and a PIC, but the advantage of doing it with something like XPE is that it's a lot easier to scale up to something grander.

    Wanna get waypoints out of Autoroute? Sure - no problem.
    Need to change your GPS unit to a different USB model? Again. No problem.
    Want to add some basic computer vision stuff to it getting input fro
  • They seem to brag about how large their programs are and how much memory they take.

    "All it has to do" (note I put it in quotes) is change a handful of control surfaces to put its GPS coordinates back on the desired flight path. This is something that is even simpler than a old-fashioned mechanical autopilot had to do using some gearboxes and hydraulics (Those generally did inertial navigation, and had to do more work because GPS wasn't available half a century ago...).

    Admittedly old autopilots did lit

  • Interesting project, but can anyone comment on this?

    A control system really needs to be hard real-time. Is XPE hard realtime? Also, is C#? If it is, how does it deal with garbage collection under these constraints?
  • ...do NOT attempt to enable wi-fi in this thing. The last thing we need is a Microsoft-powered SKYNET.

    *ducks*
  • by fdiskne1 (219834) on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:13AM (#9899057)
    For some reason, this story about an unmanned aerial vehicle running on Windows XP makes me think of it being infected with a virus called SkyNet and turning into an Aerial Hunter-Killer. (from the Terminator series)
  • by spinkham (56603) on Friday August 06, 2004 @10:15AM (#9899083)
    My school(Virginia Commonwealth University) also did this, and actually won the competition these were built for, the second AUVSI student competition.
    http://auvsi-seafarer.org/seafarers/ default.htm
    http://www.egr.vcu.edu/announcements/ uav.html
    As far as I know, no Microsoft products were used on the plane, but I can't find too many details at the moment. The guy I know who worked on the project only knew C and C++, though from my understanding he did mostly the EE stuff, not as much programming....
  • I didn't see any mention of the .NET Compact Framework in the linked article, just C#. I suspect this is running on the standard .NET runtime.

    The Compact Framework is a .NET runtime targeted at Windows CE running on top of the processors you find in PocketPCs (generally ARM), and ships with a class library that's rather stripped down from what you get with the full desktop runtime. Windows CE and Windows XP Embedded are, btw, different operating systems, although CE implements a large subset of Win32, an

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