No longer the stuff of lucid dreams, this summer I was given the opportunity to help turn human flight into a reality. The Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich has recently reopened a project on Wingsuit Flight, and this summer, I was able to immerse myself in the possibilities it represents.
The focus of the lab, as the name suggests, is to model dynamic systems, and to develop the control algorithms necessary to work with them. This process begins with understanding the complex dynamics of such a system: this was the focus of my research this summer. I was part of a group responsible for implementing a wireless sensor net to monitor several parameters of a real wingsuit flight, namely the airspeed, groundspeed, and the orientation of several key body segments in space. Using this data, it is possible to reconstruct a basic model of the body during flight, and to observe the effects of altering these body segments on flight parameters. Using this model, it should then be possible to implement a control system to render a powered flight possible, and safe.
This goal is however far reaching: the current focus of the project is to collect data to build the flight model. To achieve this, my group and I found an orientation sensor, ETHOS, that is able to communicate wirelessly. I worked with the existing firmware on these modules, to integrate an airspeed sensor to the onboard microcontroller. This allows synchronous collection of airspeed data. Another member of the group, Tony Zhang (EngSci 1T2+PEY) worked to remove some existing bugs with the wireless communication, and to integrate a GPS Doppler-effect velocity module to the sensor net. Samuel Zhao (EngSci 1T0), worked to develop the filter algorithms that we intend to use while we work with the data. Another aspect of the project that I worked with was the data collection and parsing: to save space, onboard data is stored in a raw format, so I developed an automated parsing method to interpret it into integer format, and into a MATLAB array.
During the project and the summer, I had the chance to collaborate with many talented individuals. I greatly enjoyed working with Sam and Tony, both recent EngSci graduates, as well as the other members of IDSC. Based in Switzerland, the lab attracts many Swiss and German students, as well as those from all over the world. I loved to learn from so many different perspectives: everyone there is talented and passionate. I found the lab to be very supportive of students’ interests, and this means that it is full of people who truly enjoy what they are doing. This environment is what really made my summer special: it was exciting to learn in a place so full of such inspiring individuals.
Overall, I found the experience to be intellectually stimulating, as well as stimulating from a social and cultural viewpoint. The research that I conducted suited my interests perfectly, and I loved being part of a project that is truly on a frontier: we are working to find answers that nobody knows, and to me, that is very exciting. I also greatly enjoyed the social aspect of the lab – the people working in it, and the atmosphere that is created by a group who truly loves what they do. Of course, Zurich and surrounding Switzerland is stunning, and I was able to make ample use of my time there to explore the neighboring countries as well. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in so many unique cultures was fantastic. The experience was simply unforgettable.