WaveLab @ Waterloo

Moe Adham - 4A Mechatronics
Posted on: January 20, 2010

The Waterloo Autonomous Vehicles Laboratory (WaveLab) opened in September and has some interesting and far reaching research goals. Professor Steven L. Waslander, who runs the lab, is one of a number of professors undertaking research that has a great benefit to engineering undergraduate and graduate students. I sat down with Professor Waslander to get a better idea of his research, the WaveLab, and its goals going forward. The WaveLab currently has 6 graduate students and is undertaking some cutting edge research. The problem: how can we get small vehicles to be autonomous? The solution is where the fun happens. The WaveLab is currently focusing on aerial quad-rotor vehicles, as seen in the photograph. These vehicles are small, lightweight, autonomous aircrafts that are able to carry a camera, as well as a small payload. Making these vehicles autonomous is no simple task. How can these vehicles fly around unknown environments? How can multiple vehicles interact with each other to avoid mid-air collisions? How can all this be done with technology that is cheap and light enough to fit on such a small platform? The solution to each of these problems is the focus of the research being done: perception, planning and co-ordination. The engineering knowledge needed to accomplish these goals can be traced back to many familiar engineering courses, such as control theory, planning algorithms, sensors, image processing, aerodynamics, optimization, and statistics. The goals of Professor Waslander’s research is not constrained to aerial vehicles; he has some very exciting long term goals. While most of the current research is on quad-rotor aerial vehicles, ground vehicles are also a big part of this type of research. As the lab matures and as funding becomes available, work on larger scale autonomous vehicles is a priority; the department even has access to two Lexus SUV’s, with plans for use as autonomous vehicle platforms. The applications of this work are already making a foothold in the region. Three UW graduate students recently launched Aeryon Labs Inc. The small startup, based out of Waterloo, designs and sells small scale quad-rotor aircraft for commercial and research applications. There are a number of other competitors in the field as well. Some interesting commercial applications include police/military surveillance as well as bridge, tunnel and pipe inspection. While autonomous aircraft from mega-corporations such as Boeing and Northup-Grumman may be more costly, in many ways the work done in the area of small-scale aircraft can be more complicated. These crafts have to navigate very narrow environments, with little to no room for error; UAV’s rarely have anything to collide with. Students who are interested in this type of research have a lot of ways to get involved. First off, they can join the Waterloo Aerial Robotics Group (WARG), who have a new vehicle that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but fly horizontally like a conventional plane. There is also the UW Micro Arial Vehicle Team (UWMAV). The team plans on competing in the 2010 International Micro-Air Vehicles competition in Germany. There are a number of 4th year design projects available for these teams as well in the WaveLab. If interested, feel free to check out <i>http//:autonomous.uwaterloo.ca/waslander</i>, or the teams’ respective websites.