An RMIT student has developed software technology to enable a drone to delve deep underground to survey mines autonomously.
Bachelor of Software Engineering student, Julian Wise accepted an offer to complete a summer internship with CSIRO where he joined a team of scientists and engineers tasked with integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into a drone.
The project’s aim was to develop a drone that would fly autonomously underground to support mining exploration, with potential for search and rescue.
“The purpose of the research was to create a drone that can navigate a mine by itself, well beyond the distances humans can safely travel within the mine, and search the walls for rich mineral veins,” Wise said.
“We were working with a cognitive architecture, or a ‘robot mind’ known as ACT-R, trying to give it the freedom to control a drone – both in real life and in computer simulations.”
In tackling this challenge, Wise found that existing technology was inadequate for the task at hand.
“When I was looking at ways of interfacing the ACT-R with the simulation, there was nothing that could reach the speed we wanted for data packet transmission, so we made our own, called REACT-R, by extending ACT-R to have a robot embodiment,” he said.
“We knew that if we could safely configure the data transmission to control a drone in a simulation, the flexible REACT-R module could connect to an actual drone's operating system and perform much the same – and that's exactly what we did!”
Following this breakthrough innovation, the International Conference of Artificial Intelligence in Las Vegas accepted the team’s subsequent research paper for publication.
“After developing the technology you then have to write a research paper to go with it, which was written in partnership with my CSIRO research partner, Llewyn Salt from the University of Queensland,” Wise said.
“While he focused on the drone physics, my contribution centred on developing software and getting foreign components to interface correctly.”
Wise worked on the drone project in a team with three other students, as part of a larger research group based in CSIRO research unit Data 61, Australia’s largest digital and data innovation group.
“The group had just under twenty members, working on completely different aspects towards a common goal,” Wise said.
“Within the team there were people working on eye-tracking control of robots; surveys for asteroid mining; drone AI; and a digital data model of the physical world.
“Understanding how it all fits together and seeing the product come together was very fulfilling.”
While enjoying the project’s technical challenges, Wise found the CSIRO internship gave him insight into what it’s like to work on major research programs with real-world applications, such as mining.
“I loved it! It definitely gave me a taste of what life is like in a research facility on the cutting-edge of technology,” he said.
“Working on the project demonstrated how so many fields complement each other to develop a project to completion.”
With experience like this behind him, Wise has been inspired to pursue career opportunities using technology to tackle a range of global issues.
“My future will be in research and development; on the cusp of the technological tide in the area of software engineering,” he said.
“From global warming to declining bee populations, humanity has many challenges to overcome that will require big picture problem-solving in science, technology and engineering.”
Story: Daniel Walder