Co4AIR Erasmus strategic partnership completed

Co4AIR – Computers, Cognition and Communication in Control is an Erasmus Strategic Partnership involving 8 European educational institutions and led by Universite Polytechnique-Hauts de France. The project was funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ Key Action 203, Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education, and was completed on August 31st 2021. The Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, through the Robotics and Nonlinear Control group, led one intellectual output of the project: the Student Marathon – Drone Racing Competition , and also had a key involvement in a second one: the Serious Game. Of course, we contributed to the other project activities as well, such as a skill matrix. For details, see the Co4AIR introductory video.

Student Marathon. We decided to focus on autonomous control of a UAV (quadrotor drone) so as to navigate a race track consisting of colored markers that must be reached in sequence and as fast as possible. The drone is an unstable system, providing a challenging control problem to solve. At the same time, drones are very popular so the problem is motivating for the students. The race setting promotes competition and a strong personal investment into developing a good solution. An important aim was to challenge the brightest students from partner institutions and allow to compare the various teaching systems through the contest result.

Due to COVID travel restrictions, the contest was held online, using the Simulink Support Package for Parrot Minidrones, where sim-to-real transitions are as close to seamless as possible. We nevertheless allowed the teams to also present a real-drone component of their solution, and scored this separately, to provide a middle ground between a fully simulated and a real-drone-only solution. We made the contest modular and allow students to work either on computer vision to detect and place markers in the scene; or on automatic control of the drone. Finally, to make the competition accessible, we chose the inexpensive Parrot Mambo minidrone.

The first edition of the contest was organized on the 1st of July 2021.  We had five teams: Airwolf RTS, 5C++, QuadcopTeam, libellule, and MillenialMambo. See also a video of a fast, representative solution. Libellule demonstrated their solution on the real drone. A jury formed out of the supervisors of the teams from each participating institution and an external expert evaluated the solutions on the competition day, including a technical-approach presentation. We managed to obtain sponsorships from 3 companies: Analog Devices, National Instruments, and Robotics.AI, which meant we could offer actual physical prizes, in the form of embedded computing hardware.

Feedback from the students was positive. They were overwhelmingly in favor of including such a contest in their regular studies and thought that the contest helps in their day-to-day academic activities. As a next step, we plan to promote adoption of this contest both in our universities and others.

Serious Game. Our involvement here was via control design of the UAVs that are used in the serious game. A realistic, nonlinear dynamical model is used so that the UAVs behave realistically. In-game, the UAV is upgradeable for better speed and maneuverability. For learning purposes, students are allowed to change parameters of the controller. We also took the lead for the quiz design – quizzes from technical Co4AIR topics are used in-game to gain credits with which the drone can then be upgraded. The serious game is freely downloadable at

Members of the team involved from Technical University Of Cluj-Napoca

  •  Prof.dr.eng. Lucian Busoniu
  • Assoc.Prof.dr.eng. Paula Raica
  • Eng. Marius Dragomir
  • Eng.  Robert Budai
  • Assoc.Prof.dr.eng. Levente Tamas.
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