Parking Drone - Battlehack

I was at Battlehack, a hackathon organized by Paypal on 10 and 11 Aug, 2013. I teamed up with Hakon Verespej and hacked the ARDrone to build an interesting project.

The Pitch

The hackathon was themed around "local" and "neighborhood" and the first problem we thought of was finding parking. We thought that it would be fun to use the AR Drone to fly around and find empty parking spots and hold it for you till you get there.
The AR Drone is programmable and would be launched using a phone app. The drone would fly around to the spot, identify empty spots and return back the location.

The Execution

The AR Drone is programmable and we decided to use the node-ar-drone module to control it. The phone app is a pure HTML app that sends a message to a node server to launch the drone. The node server starts the drone and moves it around.
The phone app constantly pings the server for the latest status and also allows for drone to be called back.

On the server, OpenCV is used to pick up the camera images and analyze them for detecting the "emptiness" of a parking spot. In the interest of time, we just look for canny lines to identify empty spots. For the demo, the drone flies lower when it identifies the presence of an object under it. The source code of all that we managed in those 20 hours is available on Github
We also had a small test page that let us control the drone manually and showed us the results from running the OpenCV filters.


The ARDrone 2.0 with GPS had not released it during the Battlehack - implementing the "search for a parking spot" was not possible without the ability to tell the drone to go to a certain location.
Getting the list of parking spots was also hard and we could not find a database that could give us such a geo-tagged map.
The biggest problem however was the stability of the drone itself. Given that we were demonstrating this indoor, it was hard to ensure that the drone would just hover at one place and not drift. The drone could not be controlled as precisely as we wanted.

The Presentation

After almost 20 hours of non-stop coding, here is what we ended up with.


On the whole, it was a fun event and I was able to work on something interesting. Hakon was a great team mate and I was amazed by dedication to get it to work; would love to work with him on another hackathon.