All posts by apwalker

Jiannan Zhao completes 12 month secondment in China

Jiannan Zhao enrolled as a PhD Scholar at the University of Lincoln in 2016. In 2017-18 he visited Tsinghua University as part of the STEP2DYNA project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skolodowska-Curie grant agreement. During this secondment Jiannan developed the first generation of “locust-inspired collision detector for UAV” and demonstrated real flight with the bio-inspired algorithm on embedded system.

Jiannan has just completed his second 12 month secondment at the Guangzhou University in China as part of the ULTRACEPT project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Marie Skolodowska-Curie grant agreement. He has been involved in Work Package 1 and 4.

The ultimate objective of my PhD research has been to develop an automatic UAV platform with bio-inspired collision avoidance system. The aim of my secondment to Guangzhou University was to realise agile autonomous UAV flight based on LGMD collision detector.

During my secondment I analysed the challenges during 3D movement of the UAV flight and modelled a novel neural network to overcome these challenges.

The existing algorithms were inadequate for flight scenes. To fully achieve flexible automatic flight the algorithms needed to be enhanced to ensure they were robust against dynamic background noise. During my secondment to Guangzhou University I worked on modelling a robust and efficient locust-inspired algorithm for collision detection. Based on distributed presynaptic interconnections, I have developed a novel model appropriate for agile UAV flight, which can easily filter out insignificant visual cues by discriminating the angular velocity of images.

This model is robust for detecting near range emergent collision in dynamic backgrounds as demonstrated in the following video:

In the next phase of my research, the computational algorithm will be transplanted to embedded systems to achieve efficient automatic flight.

During my secondment I successfully submitted a paper to IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics in July 2020, titled ‘Enhancing LGMD’s Looming Selectivity for UAV Agile Flights with Spatial-temporal Distributed Presynaptic Connections’.

I also joined a group of four Tsinghua University robotic students and competed in the first International Competition for Autonomous Running Intelligent Robots in Beijing. We successfully competed against 32 other teams to take first prize. Read more about the competition here.

These Marie Sklodowska-Curie secondments have provided me access to facilities and recording equipment needed for setting up the UAV platform. Moreover, the weekly meetings with other colleagues of the project has broaden my sights and boosted my research skills.


Ubiquitous Robots 2020 Conference, Kyoto Japan

University of Lincoln researcher Hamid Isakhani returned to China to continue his ULTRACEPT secondment at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in June of 2020. Due to the unprecedented Covid situation Hamid was required to quarantine for 14 days in the Guangu Hotel. During this time, He virtually attended the Ubiquitous Robots 2020 Conference held in Kyoto, Japan.

Like many recent conferences, this was UR’s first ever virtual event. Organised by the Korea Robotics Society and co-sponsored by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, UR2020 brought together scientists and engineers across the world who are at the forefront of robotics and automation. The week-long conference held 22-26 June 2020 comprised a variety of Keynote speeches, workshops and break-out sessions. To read more about the conference you can visit the Ubiquitous Robots 2020 website, here.

Hamid presented his paper ‘A Bioinspired Airfoil Optimization Technique Using Nash Genetic Algorithm’ co-authored by Caihua Xiong, Shigang Yue and Wenbin Chen. This paper was nominated for the URA 2020 Best Paper Award.

Here is what Hamid had to say about the experience:

“2020 has been no ordinary from day one. Plane crashes, earth quakes, forest fires and now the devastating pandemic has certainly changed all of our lives for good or bad (reader’s perception). What is important is that we learn, adapt, and live on. Although some of our decisions are better than the others; like the AERO 2020 conference in France being postponed by over a year due to the pandemic compelling us to withdraw our participation, KROS on the other hand decided to take the leap and conduct the 17th International Conference on Ubiquitous Robots (UR2020) in Kyoto, Japan on the originally scheduled dates virtually for the first time in its history. It was certainly challenging for both the organisers as well as the participants, yet it was a success with a lot of takeaways for everyone.

Although the core topic of our work is more related to the field of Aerospace, we were extremely pleased to learn that our work was greatly recognised by the robotics community and nominated for the best contributed paper award at UR2020.

On 25th June 2020, 09:00hrs (JST), our 10 minutes long pre-recorded presentation was played back on Zoom application for the audience who later raised their questions via the built-in Q&A tab provided on the platform. Participants had access to the audio and video of the presenter and the session Chair who communicated and sorted the posted questions through a one-on-one video call.

Online conference sceptics might argue that networking and physical meetings at an international conference is a significant advantage missing in a virtual event, especially for early career researchers. Fortunately, this feature was also thoughtfully integrated by the organisers on the Slack application where different channels were created for presenters to communicate and share opinions/contacts for a period of thirty days.

Overall, it was rather an interesting experience, although I was in my 14-days covid-19 quarantine in China, at least I didn’t have to attend my session past midnight in the UK (BST).”

Hamid remains in China to carry on his secondment activities, although not in quarantine anymore. He continues his study on the effects of haemolymph on the flexural stiffness of various flying insect species. You can learn more about Hamid’s research here.