Research on Programming and Electronics for Aalto Explorer (Part 1)

A brief overview

Aalto Explorer (AE) envisions a remote vehicle and a network application – the so-called expedition platform – to be controlled by the community and be made available to any ocean-enthusiasts, casual explorers and life-long learners, sending them on exciting journeys of oceanic exploration on their own terms and at their own pace. The community and/or experts can organise and book an expedition on one of the AE units deployed around the world.  

FIND-X units are composed of three main elements: a Floating Module, a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) and a Graphic User Interface (GUI), known as the Expedition Platform. The communication between users and the floating module is enabled by 4G technology. The floating module connects to the ROV via an umbilical cord that supplies energy and allows the communication with the cameras and the control of the ROV unit.

The Research on Programming and Electronics for Aalto Explorer

There are five important elements of programming and electronics for the operation of Aalto Explorer (AE). In this article, we’ll review how the research on computing units, cameras and sensors for AE is conducted.

Part 1: Computing Units, Cameras, and Sensors

1. COMPUTING UNITS

Microprocessor

The selected unit for microprocessor was the Raspberry Pi 3 because it is a general-purpose single-board computer that satisfies the computing needs of the project across three prototype versions 1, 2 and 3. The microprocessor works under the Raspbian operating system – a Linux distribution – by default. Other operating systems are still under testing with most of them being Linux-distributed.

Microcontroller

The selected unit for microcontroller was the Arduino Mega, which is based on the ATmega1280. It has 54 digital input/output pins (of which 14 can be used as PWM outputs), 16 analog inputs, 4 UARTs (hardware serial ports), a 16 MHz crystal oscillator, a USB connection; a power jack, an ICSP header, and a reset button.

2. CAMERAS

Navigation camera

For navigation, the Raspberry Pi’s noIR-camera is selected thanks to its direct connection to the Raspberry PI and sufficient image quality for the navigation purposes.

Exploration camera

The Raspberry PI isn’t capable of streaming high-quality videos from the external camera. However, this problem can be tackled with two options:

      1. Placing an extra PC in the floating module for streaming.
      2. Using a camera that can stream without external devices.

A need for PC is a major drawback for option 1, because it is costly and consumes a lot of energy.

For option 2, there are two possible choices: An action camera which can stream without external devices and an IP-camera. Unfortunately, there are very few action cameras with streaming function on the market and those cameras have multiple limitations (i.e. only works with iOS devices, etc.).  An IP-camera can be easily implemented, but it also imposes a limitation: they are not fully waterproof, which requires different case (cover) for every single usage.

After a thorough consideration of the pros and cons of each option, we decided to go ahead with a reasonable-priced IP-camera. The main reasons are easy implementation (plug-and-play) and affordability, which enables many prototype iterations.  Overall, an IP camera is the most suitable for our goals of obtaining appropriate costs and eliminating the need for external devices and excessive power consumption.

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The details on sensors, communication and power management will be updated in the next articles. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletters or join our pioneer group for further updates!

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