Swarm exploration with pocket drones

For today’s agenda, we have the pleasure to  introduce Kimberly McGuire, a robotics expert working in the software development area at Bitcraze, where she is making tiny drones fly by themselves thanks to artificial intelligence. Her PhD research was about "Swarm Exploration with Pocket Drones" where she looked at bio-inspired ways to accomplish indoor exploration on computational limited MAVs.

Elisa Muñoz:

Hey Kimberly, would you mind sharing with us how you started in robotics please?

Kimberly McGuire:

I started with industrial design engineering, product design in depth.Then I decided that I would like to go a little bit more in depth on the technical side and I did some mechanical engineering with a specialization in bio-inspired robotics. For my masters, I was mostly working with driving robots with moving eyes,  until we developed flying robots.

For my PHD, I started using the crazy fly robots  for my research at Bitcraze, and I loved it so much that I ended up working for them. So there you go.

Elisa Muñoz:

And you have been in there like three years now?

Kimberly McGuire:

Yeah, about three years. I started in June of 2019 in June. It feels like it went by so fast.

 

Elisa Muñoz:

And how do you feel about the industry? I know you have been in the engineering world for quite awhile now, but jumping into specifically building drones. Did you ever think that that's how you end up?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

Definitely not when I started. It kind of grew on me. Like at one point I understood that I liked robotics.. And I, I can very much remember the first time when I, yeah, at least like I saw the people that most were working with the grant portrait, the, the product that I was going to end up at the MFE lab to your Delft. And they were actually trying to fly a whole bunch of these swarm drones. And at one part of course I was like, Hmm, “that sounds like a challenge.” “Let’s do it”.

 

Elisa Muñoz:

Is there a way that you can explain to us, maybe like, how you build these drones? Like what's the first step or how does it work?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

So to answer your question, I would say that you would start mostly with the hardware. And luckily these are things that you can already buy from us already, so you would get a nice little package and just assemble the motors. And luckily you don't need any soldering iron's so that's fine. Iit's almost plug and play, but there's also a lot of other labs out there that would make the drums completely from scratch.

And then after that's a forest, that really depends of course on the drone, but then you would go start looking at the software. If you're,  there's already some things that are already pre-programmed for you.

If you're a little bit unlucky, then you have to start really from the basics. And first of all, it's something called like that you're able to control the attitudes, which is the role pitching y'all. So usually any of these strokes should have something called I'm you inertial measurement units, where it's able to kind of determine in which orientation it is. Because by definition, this best forum is a bit unstable. So if you would just like to run the propellers randomly we'll of course flip over. So you would need to have a sensor and Dyer that's able to see Thurman in which orientation it is. So that's step one.

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Elisa Muñoz:

How many are we talking about when we mention swarms? Like how many drones would I be imagining?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

The biggest drone, as swarmed as we have seen so far, is 49 in research. And I think that's yeah, that was done by the university of Southern California. At the same time.

 

Elisa Muñoz:

Why would you say it's important to make these swarms functional and easy to use?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

I would say that there are still a lot of fields. We discover to where it can be useful for, but if I would name several is perhaps also like the use case that I used during my PhD research: That there's a building that's about to collapse and you want to have them fly right away through all the small windows and cracks and see if they're able to discover if there's anybody else in science and other use case that I would think about our greenhouses and surveillance. For instance, if you have pretty big drones, perhaps it is difficult to really go down to the plant level because of what they call down wash from the propellers.

So it's also a form of entertainment, yeah. For like concerts or just, or just drone shows by itself. I would say it's already pretty impressive. So form of arts and there's also some like experimental biologist, sometimes you use it also for flocking research to kind of see how that works. Like how birds interact with each other.

 

 Elisa Muñoz:

 And I mean, now that you're in Bitcraze, maybe you're closer to the purchasing process. Do you know how that process works?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

That's actually an interesting question. Because like I said before, this is a pretty small company. We are only with six people at the moment and we actually, our process is quite special to other companies. We are actually self-organized.

So to me, it's just, that's real, each all shares an equal amount of responsibility. So if I want to order a piece and I have consultants with enough people and yeah, everybody said pretty much like everybody, but like, you know, most are. Okay. And I'm pretty, okay with just ordering. For instance, it's a pretty fast process and I like, you can also see we have quite a lot of products as well for like, I think maybe around decorations fly, we have about like 15 other products indexed. 

And because we don't have to worry about the management layers, let's say it's got all the processes to go for our fellowship. And our innovation process also goes very fast. And well also one fun thing is that we also have some sequels, like a 20% personal, like personal portraits time. 

 

Elisa Muñoz: 

Is there anyone from the industry, any colleague that you admire that you feel like it's an inspiration for you? 

 

Kimberly McGuire:

Yeah, like definitely during my PhD, I would say that I definitely admire my professor at the time he had, he managed to like, you know, still be so ambitious and still do research while having three children. And I think his wife was also director of the company in Sweden.  How he was able to handle that? So quite well,

 

Elisa Muñoz:

How do you think we can inspire other women to get into the industry?

 

Kimberly McGuire:

Yeah. Well, it's, I think you have to start young with that. Perhaps if I can make an example, like in Sweden, it's normal for high school students to go to work, just like an intern for one week. And we had one female student over there and she was like, “No, no, like I'm completely not strong with computers. Just give me some hands-on job. I'll do it. It'll be fin”. And at one point we gave her some kinds of tasks, which was a little bit boring, I would say. And at one point I would say, “Hey, would you like to fly, flight this thing?”

 

So I showed her how to fly this district and manually first with the headquarter roller. And there's like, oh, she was actually quite a natural. I was like, “Hm, do you want to do more?”

And then I showed her the optical flow sensor that he would put on there. I was like, “Right, just push there”. And then I actually showed her  a script. And I was like, “Okay, if you change this line and this line, the drone will start doing something else” . And, and she just got like, “it looks amazing”. And she said that she was not good at programming at all, but she has like, you know, she had natural programming skills, obviously, because she knows how, like, you know, at least the part of the script for thought she had never thirst any programming line. I didn't start programming until my masters!

 

Elisa Muñoz:

Thank you so much Kimberly for being here. This was amazing. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. 

Kimberly McGuire:

Thank you for inviting me.

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