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Making robot airplanes

Introduction

My name is Bilal Kaddouh and I am currently in the third year of my PhD at the University of Manchester. I have completed my BEng (Hons) with distinction in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the American University of Beirut in 2010, and then decided to concentrate on Robotics and Control, hence I did a MSc (Hons) in Robotics Engineering at King’s College London where I graduated with distinction in 2011. I am currently a Doctorate Candidate at the University of Manchester in the field of Aerospace Engineering. My main research area is concerned with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), in particular system and mission management, resources allocation, collaborative control and efficient planning.

I have worked for a year with Cummins Power Generation as a project application engineer which gave me an insight to real life work problems as well as a practical experience in applying my engineering knowledge to solve those problems. I was also responsible for delivering technical training to distributors all over Europe and the Middle East, this gave me a practical experience in teaching and conveying knowledge to students. 

Through my research I aim to design a method for efficiently managing multi UAV resources in the civil airspace under temporal and dynamic constraints. In simple words, given a set of required tasks that needs to be completed within a certain time window, I am creating a system of rules which allows a group of UAVs to decide what each UAV is going to be doing at each point in time so that all the required tasks are completed in the most efficient way while the UAVs are flying in a safe condition all the time.


In Depth

What is a UAV?

UAVs are airplanes without a pilot onboard. Their computational capabilities vary from simple remotely piloted airplanes to highly sophisticated autonomous flying platforms. They are essentially flying robots, and the aim of my research is to let the robots decide what to do to efficiently achieve various goals. UAVs can carry different sensors onboard, like cameras, infrared sensors, CO2 sensors, laser scanners, radars and so on. Due to current advancement in electronics UAVs possess an increasing level of computational power onboard for performing real time processing and decision making.

Why multiple UAVs?

UAVs are being used in various civilian applications such as remote sensing, aerial photography, crop health monitoring, emergency response, firefighting, atmospheric studies and many more. Many applications in the civilian world involve multiple teams working on the ground together in real time to accomplish a certain mission such as disaster management and relief, large event management security protection and crowd control, emergency services, firefighting ... A Multi User Multi UAV system is important for real time data gathering, in particular for live aerial imagery. When talking about a multi user application we are not considering single task multi users we are focusing on multi task multi users which gives users different task options to choose from.

Currently all commercial UAV operations models are built around one user flying one UAV. People are now slowly introducing UAVs into various applications for the added value it brings to any operation. Current trend of research has been focusing on moving from multiple operators managing one UAV to one operator managing many UAVs and therefore we find contributions in the operator situational awareness systems, in task allocation systems and in real time data processing. We will probably get to a point where UAVs are allowed to fly autonomous missions under certain rules and regulations enforced by the appropriate aviation authority. When we get to that stage, systems allowing one user to control multiple UAVs would be desirable.

What is the problem?

As a UAV operator, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made in terms of what sensors to install and how to plan and execute the required mission safely and efficiently. The problem gets complicated when multiple versatile UAVs are to be used especially when deciding on which ones to use and what factors to consider and so on. Therefore, the workload faced by the operator is overwhelming. With the flexibility and diversity available in a multi UAV system, it becomes impossible for an operator to take all those decisions in a timely manner and in an efficient way. Computerized automatic resource management systems are designed to answer those questions.

What is my approach?

The future

Technology is developing fast and many advancements are not yet accessible to the public. Effective management systems of multiple UAVs will allow this cutting-edge technology to be utilized by everyone. Instead of having to own and learn how to control a UAV yourself and having limited resources on your particular machine, soon you will be able to benefit from the numerous services of a UAV simply by using an app on your mobile phone or by visiting a website. The key for succeeding in a UAV resource sharing system is an efficient resource allocation system, and that’s where my research comes in.


Going Further

For more information about UoM UAV Research Group: http://uavs.mace.manchester.ac.uk/

For more information about aerospace system group: http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/aerospace-engineering/specialisms/aerospace-systems/

For more information about studying aerospace: http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/aerospace-engineering/meng-aerospace-engineering-4years/

Some ted talks about UAVs:

https://www.ted.com/talks/andreas_raptopoulos_no_roads_there_s_a_drone_for_that

http://www.ted.com/talks/raffaello_d_andrea_the_astounding_athletic_power_of_quadcopters?language=en

A video indicating the simplicity and important usages of UAVs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9n0TRpcIw8


 

Recreating the conditions inside the sun

Introduction

Hello! My name is Asad and I’m a PhD student at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. Within my PhD, I work in the relatively recent field of nuclear fusion. More specifically, I look at the effects of plasma damage and neutron irradiation (both known phenomenon that occur within nuclear fusion) on materials that could be used to build a potential fusion reactor.

A little bit about my background first. Before I embarked on my PhD, I completed a Master of Engineering (MEng) in Mechanical Engineering with a minor focus on Nuclear Engineering. I also did some part time study in mathematics and research projects within fluid mechanics. Of the latter, a noteworthy one is that I constructed a mathematical model of the acoustics of a banjo!


In Depth

Science has always intrigued mankind. Some of the foremost questions we have been obsessed with are the simple ones:

·  “Where did we come from?”

·  “Why are we here?”

·  “What do we do?”

No matter who you ask, you will realise that we still don’t really know the answers to these; whether we look for philosophical reasoning or scientific. We search high and low for answers. Our universe is at the centre of such research. And at the centre of our universe: the sun.

The sun can be considered a giant ball of energy. The manner in which this energy is generated is referred to as nuclear fusion. As the human species observed this, we felt the urge to exploit the process to aid our need for energy, in order to survive on a world where resources are rapidly depleting.

What exactly is nuclear fusion? The answer is a result of work done by pioneering scientists such as Ernest Rutherford, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie. We find that certain atoms of elements undergo interesting transitions. We have been able to exploit these, such as nuclear fission which is currently a dominant process to generate electricity. Within fission, we find that under the right conditions, some of the atoms will split and become smaller releasing energy in the process. Fusion is the opposite; some atoms combine and through the process release energy. It has been found that the energy released through fusion could potentially be more sustainable, cleaner, and less fraught with the risks associated with the energy generated through fission. 

Thus we are now engaged in a global technological race to be able to achieve the right conditions for fusion on earth. Thus far we have managed to recreate the conditions. However, we still haven’t managed to be able to maintain these for long enough, nor have we been able to extract power from it. We have some ideas on how to achieve both. One of the questions however is, do we have the materials to be able to do so?


This is where people like me come in. Thus far I have spoken about how this is a relatively new process mingled with a plethora of difficulties. Therefore, it will not be surprising when I say that we don’t exactly have the appropriate facilities to be able to entirely comprehend the extreme effects taking place. So how do we go about solving the problem? Some people try and use proxies, alternative approaches that in some way mimic certain effects we expect. Others try to use computational techniques and our understanding of physics to paint a picture. I’m involved in the latter. I use modelling and simulation to try and deduce what we expect. It isn’t as simple as pushing a button however. One needs to be aware of a lot of inter-related pieces of physics. Sometimes, we also find that we don’t have the computational power to actually be able to process all of these (surprising isn’t it given the progress in the field of IT).  Sometimes my job is therefore to see which processes are negligible. At other times, it is to check and draw conclusions from the results of my simulations. To name a few of the techniques I use; I use solvers for the neutron transport equation, binary collision approximation and molecular dynamics. The last considers how atoms are likely to behave. This generates some interesting perceptions of important chemical and atomic processes.

I’ll stop here. I’ll end on a note that the human race is currently engaged in very exciting things. But to see this realised; we need young, ambitious and creative minds that are keen to learn as well as try new things. 


Going Further

If you want any more information, please feel free to contact me at: asad.hussain@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk . 

To find out more about the chemical and atomic processes generated in molecular dynamics: http://lammps.sandia.gov/movies.html

A more comprehensive yet elementary guide on nuclear physics can be found at (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nuccon.html)

Here are also some web links pertinent to what I have written: 

Culham Center for Fusion Energy: http://www.ccfe.ac.uk/introduction.aspx

Nuclear Energy Agency: http://www.oecd-nea.org/workareas/

Fusion Center for Doctoral Training: http://www.york.ac.uk/fusion-cdt/