Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Holiday AMOS Work

Work on AMOS took a brief pause for Christmas, but has continued on during this final week of 2020. On Monday, I had wanted to do another test of the RTK / GPS equipment using a laptop hooked up to the base station equipment (in the playhouse) and a second laptop hooked up to the remote "rover" equipment, that was moved around the backyard. This was similar to the previous test done last week, except a laptop replaced AMOS as the rover. Using a laptop running Windows allowed me to run the Windows diagnostic software that came with the equipment, to see what mode the rover was in ("acquiring 3D position fix", "RTK float mode" or "RTK fix mode"). The latter of these modes provides the best position accuracy and precision, down to cm-level. The weather that day was a bit rainy and snowy, which required the use of this handy recycling box / makeshift laptop shelter:

It soon became apparent after some walking about the backyard, that the rover antenna generally required a fairly unobstructed view of the sky in order to achieve the desired RTK fix mode for highest accuracy. If the antenna was situated on the ground near the pool, or near the house, it would fall back to RTK float mode, which is something like about +/- 1 m. Out on the water, there is usually a pretty good view of the sky, although in areas near the shoreline, embankments or tall trees might interfere somewhat with the received signal levels.

Other work this week has focused on the building of a calibration jig for the magnetometers on AMOS:

It's not fully put together yet, but the software is written for it, and the hardware just requires a couple more gluing stages to test it out. The magnetometers will be slid into a 3D-printed box that is glued atop a wooden pole with a couple of bubble levels to help keep them reasonably well confined to a horizontal plane. The metal clamps will be removed once the epoxy has finished curing (in another 12 hours or so). A small stepper motor at the base is used to rotate the pole back and forth in a circle. Extension cables will connect the magnetometers to the Raspberry Pi on AMOS, which will collect the circle data and use it to estimate the sensor offsets and gains. 

I also tested out the new 11" composite propeller blade this week, although it was somewhat of a disappointment. My kitchen-scale-based method of estimating  thrust is admittedly crude, but I couldn't detect any noticeable difference between the 11" composite blade and the inexpensive plastic 10" one. They both maxed out at about 1300 g of thrust. The composite one looks quite a bit sturdier though, so possibly it might survive occasional run-ins with shoreline bushes and trees. 

There is now a new product available on the In Nature Robotics website, the AMOS Board Kit: Here is a slightly cheesy promotional video for it that was auto-generated through Wix:

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

New AMOS Board

(EDIT, Jan. 07, 2021: For more info on AMOS and In Nature Robotics, please also visit

 It pained me somewhat to carve up a brand new surfboard fresh out of the box, but I used the two AMOS electronics boxes as guides to carve out rectangular holes in the bow and stern and then wedged the boxes in. The fit was pretty snug, so I didn't bother gluing anything down:

I also had the new survey-grade antenna and GPS / RTK receiver board hooked up, so tried out the whole assembly on the weekend. The GPS / RTK receiver board seems to get pretty accurate GPS data fairly quickly, so only a short wait was required before AMOS took off on its course:

AMOS went up and down the river on the usual course that I had followed throughout the summer while collecting dissolved oxygen data, although this time it made the 2.75 km trip in only 33 minutes, shattering the old record of 43 minutes by 10 minutes! This included 17 ten second stops for water temperature samples, and some inefficient steering due to compass errors (see below). The improved speed made it more difficult to film while kayaking; I had to paddle hard to get ahead of it, pull out the phone, and then take some video:

 This last video showed a bit of a problem that the compass was having with giving accurate heading when the boat should have been moving south. The compass error must have been pointed towards the southeast, because the boat would start in that direction, realize that the new target direction was southwest (or even west) to get to the next waypoint, and then move in a big curve to correct for the initial path error. The temperature in the electronics box started off at 8 degrees C at the start of the test, and fell to 3 degrees C by the end. The magnetometer calibration was done at -3 degrees C, so that might have been a source of error. And probably there was some error from the Z-axis (vertical) magnetometer on the compass, since it had never been calibrated on this unit, and the new inclined angle of the bow on this boat would have caused that magnetometer to come more into play for determining heading.

Yesterday I modified a pair of AMOSRemote wireless transceivers to pass through serial data at 115200 bps, in order to test out an RTK / GPS setup with a base station and rover. I put the base antenna on top of the playhouse:

and did a couple of slow walks with the boat just inside the fence line:

The results seemed pretty good:

although were slightly outside the corner of the fence when I walked behind the pool. Possibly some satellites were obstructed at this location, or perhaps the communications link between the playhouse and AMOS became a bit less than ideal at that time. Either way, some more testing will be required to quantify what sort of accuracy can be expected under various conditions and communications ranges. Also, it would be better to have the normal communications programs on the wireless transceivers merged in somehow with the RTK wireless serial link mode. 

The weather is looking nice and warm (above zero!) for Christmas Eve, and a new 11" carbon fiber propeller arrived in the mail today, so possibly there will be an opportunity for some more river testing soon, before things freeze up. 😎

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Testing Out New Gear

Since the test with the new motor described in last week's blog ended abruptly with a tree collision, I went back the following day to try again, this time with a better "cold-temperature" magnetometer calibration. I also launched the boat from the kayak, just beyond the trees as a precaution. There was a light wind, a fair bit of current, and the sun was out providing a bit of warmth. It was almost possible to forget that it was the middle of December. 

The new motor did great - going against the current I  believe it was a lot faster than the old motor would have been:

On the return trip, going with the wind and current, the boat tended to oversteer and ended up going in a complete 360 degree circle a few times. Using a shorter surfboard, possibly with the propulsion a bit closer to the center would help with this. Adding some small fins to the bottom would help too. And likely the software could be better optimized to avoid oversteering.  

I ordered a 6 foot kids surfboard:

and a bodyboard:

recently. I hope to try them out as AMOS "platforms" soon. 

Other work this past week has focused on getting the RTK (real time kinematic) / GPS evaluation boards working with AMOS. On the weekend, I was able to get the equipment working well with one board / antenna system functioning as the "base" and the other board / antenna functioning as the "rover", both on the kitchen deck, and both plugged into the USB ports on my laptop:

For the above GPS data, I waited with the rover stationary on the deck for about a minute, and then moved it about 20 cm south and waited another minute. Looks like about +/- 3 cm or so precision there!

Of course to get this working on AMOS, the output from the base unit will need to be sent wirelessly to the rover unit. The base unit only appears to be sending a few hundred bytes per second, so that should be OK for the wireless transceiver currently on AMOS. I'll need to hookup a second transceiver to the base unit. And also packetize the outgoing data, so that it can co-exist nicely with other wireless commands potentially being sent by a user controlling the boat and viewing its data. To get
a feel for the accuracy / precision without using the RTK base unit, I put the rover unit on AMOS and carried it around the perimeter of our fence, about 1 foot inside the fence:

It seemed to be accurate to about +/- 2 m most of the time.

The final bit of news for this week was that the December issue of Ocean News and Technology finally arrived. There is a great article on the future of low-cost autonomous surface vehicles on page 42:

Thursday, December 10, 2020

New Build With New Motor

 Much of the past few weeks have been spent assembling the electronics boxes for the next AMOS version. The LiDAR module just arrived yesterday, so it is not on yet, but pretty much all the other electronics are assembled, including a new motor. 

Both boxes combined, and including the 10AH battery weigh only about 3.5 kg. In a pretty crude test involving a kitchen scale and the propulsion / battery box positioned with its back end on the scale, I was able to compare the lifting force of the two propellers for approximately the same input voltage, and  the same 10" propeller. The new motor completely outstripped the old one, producing 2.5 times more lift for approximately the same input power, i.e. about 1300 g of force vs. about 500 g. Excited with these results, I strapped the electronics boxes onto the old AMOS surfboard:

And took it down to the river this morning for a test:

The test was very short. AMOS made an abrupt 45 degree turn and then headed directly for this clump of trees (you can just make it out in the top center of this photo):

Unfortunately the propeller broke, and that was the end of the test. There were actually 2 reasons for the directional error. One was that the box containing the AMOS-IMU (containing the electronic compass) was about 10 degrees askew of the boat:

The other more significant problem was that the magnetometer offsets changed significantly with temperature. I did a test this evening in the backyard with the box pointing roughly east and reading a reasonably accurate 81 degrees when the box was still relatively warm, at 18 deg C. After being outside for an hour, the temperature inside the box was -3 deg C, and the heading had drifted down to 41 degrees:

I don't remember temperature having as profound an effect on the previous AMOS boats, but then again I only did a limited amount of testing at negative temperatures. So to be ready for the next test (assuming it will be somewhat close to -3 deg C), I re-did the circle calibration in the backyard (the original calibration was done at room temperature). It wouldn't be hard to have the boat do its own magnetometer calibration in the water. But better would be to calibrate and model the offset and possibly gain fluctuations of the AMOS-IMU sensors with temperature. 

In other news, the RTK antenna cables just arrived today, so this weekend I hope to do some backyard surveying work. 😎

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Building AMOS 4.0

The past couple of weeks have been spent putting stuff together for the next version of AMOS. It's going to be faster, more powerful, have a longer range, more accurate navigation, and it's going to look amazing. Some potential designs for the hull have been considered:

although nothing definite has been decided yet. Steven Fox, a mechanical engineering technician at Measurand has agreed to help me out with the hull design and construction in his off-hours, so no doubt he will greatly improve upon whatever I would have come up with. I had looked a little bit into 3D-printing or urethane casting for the next version, but these alternatives seemed quite pricey, and I wasn't sure how sturdy the finished product would be. So for now at least, it's looking like it is going to be another foam and fiberglass construction. Just better looking. 😎

Prior to this build I watched a couple of how-to soldering videos on YouTube to refine my technique, and then put together a couple of AMOSRemote boards, one for the handheld unit and one for AMOS:

The boards are fairly simple, so by trying to solder them correctly I was able to actually get them finished much faster (in a few hours) and more cleanly. Only one pad destroyed due to excessive heating. 

Assembling the battery box has been taking a bit longer, but is so far shaping up nicely:

Getting the Raspberry Pi setup will be quite easy. Loading the software is as simple as backing up the existing SD card onto a new one. Getting all of the electrical work done shouldn't take more than a few more days I think. If all the assembly work were organized with readily available parts on shelves that I didn't need to spend hours searching around the house for, I think the electronics for a full AMOS unit could be completed by a single person in a couple of days. 

One of the improvements that will be made on this next build is the addition of survey grade positioning. I picked up a couple of survey antennas and evaluation boards from Taiwan: I'm looking forward to their arrival this Friday; it should be interesting to see if it is really possible to get cm-level precision on AMOS by using RTK (Real-time kinematic) with base station and remote devices. 

If anyone happens to be a reader of Ocean News and Technology ( be sure to check out their December issue when it is released  (should be any day now!). There may be an article in there that mentions AMOS! 😉