PhD on Autonomous Swarms of Flapping Wing Drones in Greenhouses

Updated: 3 months ago
Job Type: Temporary
Deadline: 05 Dec 2022

In horticulture, one of the most urgent problems is pest/disease detection, as they cause up to 10% harvest loss, while the use of chemicals is increasingly prohibited. For consumers, food safety is increasingly important. A potential solution for both challenges is frequent and automated pest/disease monitoring. Although technological developments such as propeller-based drones and robotic arms are in full swing, these are not suitable for vertical horticulture (e.g., tomatoes, cucumbers). A better solution for less labour-intensive pest detection in vertical crop horticulture, are swarms of bio-inspired Flapping Wings Micro Aerial Vehicles (FWMAVs).

The goal of this project is to develop bio-inspired FW-MAVs for indoor application, to support greenhouse growers of vertically growing crops in monitoring pest/disease onset detection and localization. FW-MAVs swarm is an innovative technology originating from the emulation of biological phenomena: hummingbirds and insects like dragonflies, hoverflies and bumblebees use their wings to hover in place, make a quick transition into flight and instant changes to their flight path. More research is needed to develop FW-MAVs with high hovering ability that are capable of carrying dedicated detection equipment such as camera vision and other sensors to detect, localize, identify and quantify pests/diseases. Subsequent data processing also needs to be addressed. The development of FW-MAVs is a multidisciplinary challenge requiring cross-domain collaboration between several partners, such as growers, biologists, entomologists and engineers with expertise in robotics, mechanics, aerodynamics, electronics, etc. In this project a co-creation based collaboration is established with all stakeholders involved: academia, industry, horticulture and branch organizations.

The PhD candidate will do research in the project research area focusing on the design of the flight control unit and on the development of an autonomous navigation system (HW/SW) for the control of FW-MAVs swarm deployed in greenhouses for pest/disease monitoring. In this project research area, the biomimicry research group at Inholland will collaborate with the Micro Aerial Vehicle Laboratory (MAV-Lab) at Faculty of Aerospace, TU Delft and the microelectronics department at Faculty EWI, TU Delft. The PhD candidate will be supervised by Dr Mauro Gallo (biomimicry research group, Inholland) and Dr Chris Verhoeven (microelectronics department, TU Delft), and Prof. Guido de Croon (MAV-Lab, TU Delft).

The flight control system design has to be taken into account simultaneously to the development of the flapping mechanism in order to prevent less elegant and heavy solutions altering and/or overwhelming the bio-inspired features of the MAV. In this project, you will work on the flight control unit. Basic flight control of a drone’s attitude angle is relatively mature. However, velocity and height control in greenhouses is a substantial challenge, and will have to be tackled first in the project. Subsequently, you will focus on vision-based obstacle avoidance in complex greenhouse environments. Finally, in collaboration with biologist/entomologist you will understand the navigation strategies adopted by insects swarms such as honeybees with the aim of defining a less energy demanding autonomous navigation system for the FWMAVs swarms. Even in the design of the autonomous navigation system, simulation and real-world experimental tests will be used to assess the performance of the different options leading to the definition of the most promising autonomous navigation system. This will be tested and validated on already existing flapping wings and propeller-based drones as well as on the FWMAVs developed in the course of the project.

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