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Adding New "Wings" for Traditional Disciplines ——Record of the autonomous UAV control technical team of Beijing Institute of Technology

[Editor's Note] 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and is the first year of the implementation of the "14th Five-Year Plan" and the start of a new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country. When the whole party is carrying out party history learning and education, the Propaganda Department of the party committee specially launched a special report on "Always following the party and forging ahead in a new journey", which fully demonstrates the BIT’s achievements in strengthening the party’s leadership and party building, telling vividly the struggle BITers, broadly gathering the majestic strength of BIT's career development, to greet the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China with outstanding achievements.

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In complicated terrain inspection, park security, forest fire extinguishing, mine survey... A small UAV, in the hands of the UAV "magicians" has not only changed to show a variety of uses, but also transformed into " a brand-new and smooth road" for the traditional disciplines; not only is it fruitful, but it is also moving towards the international stage. And these highly skilled "magicians" come from the UAV autonomous control technical team of BIT.

On the eve of the "May 1st" Labor Day in 2021, the team leader, Professor Lin Defu of BIT, won the "Capital Labor Medal" issued by the Beijing Federation of Trade Unions.

Small UAVS Igniting the New Vitality of Traditional Disciplines

In August 2020, four large fire spots were ignited at a UAV test flight test site in Fangshan District, Beijing. The "fire site" burst into flames instantly, and the UAV on duty immediately issued an alarm. In the distance, a flying formation composed of multiple unmanned helicopters quickly took off and hit the "fire field." The UAV formation flew directly above the fire site, accurately positioned, and maintained a reasonable height, and began to drop fire extinguishing bombs and spray fire extinguishing fluid to the fire location. In just a few minutes, the open flame was completely extinguished. "The effect is good!" The experts and leaders observing on the spot praised the UAV’s fire extinguishing effect. The successful completion of this project verification task is due to the "UAV Cluster Collaborative Fire Extinguishing System" jointly developed by the BIT UAV team led by Lin Defu and science and technology enterprises in Fangshan District.

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UAV in the cooperative fire extinguishing system of unmanned cluster and new type fire bomb developed by the team

"The system we developed can complete the full-process closed-loop operation of detection, perception, decision-making, and disposal in a complex environment. Through accurate analysis of environmental information, it can calculate the optimal position of fire extinguishing bombs to achieve efficient firefighting and ensure personnel safety. "Speaking of his own scientific research results, Lin Defu, director of the Beijing Key Laboratory of Autonomous Control Technology for UAVs, is full of confidence.

At present, the use of UAVs and other platforms to carry out unmanned, clustered, and intelligent control seems to be a trendy scientific and technological concept, but research at BIT has a deep disciplinary foundation. Since the 1980s, Qi Zaikang, the chief professor of BIT’s aircraft design discipline, has been the first in China to carry out scientific research on precision guidance and control technology for UAV in various scenarios of land, sea, air and sky. "After decades of development, BIT's aircraft design discipline has formed a leading edge in research in national key areas. However, the discipline is constantly evolving and the society's demand for science and technology is constantly increasing. How the traditional discipline of aircraft design can open up new development directions and form new growth points has become a challenge in front of us.” Since 2014, as a young and middle-aged backbone of the discipline, Lin Defu has always been thinking and exploring for "old trees to sprout".

Since then, Lin Defu gradually focused his attention on the "UAV", a "popular product" that quickly became hot. LinDefu’s team made full use of the team's own scientific research conditions, gave full play to the BIT's discipline advantages, and enabled the deep cross-integration development of machinery, information, computer, and other disciplines in the field of UAVs, and constructed an unmanned intelligent system with BIT characteristics. In 2017, the State Council issued the "New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan". Lin Defu’s team has further clarified the development ideas based on the deep integration of artificial intelligence, economy and society, and has further cultivated in the fields of "unmanned intelligence group" and "system engineering", and has embarked on the new development road of open and collaborative artificial intelligence innovation.

“Replacement, liberation, and enhancement of manpower are the core missions of unmanned intelligent systems, and the mission of our science and technology workers at BIT is to write scientific research results on the motherland.” With such a mission, Lin Defu led the team to take advantages of scientific research to carry out innovative research and achievement transformation in the fields of UAV fire fighting, agricultural plant protection, logistics, and the capability of operation in high-altitude areas.

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In July 2017, Beijing Institute of Technology signed a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a joint laboratory at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology in the UAE

With the team's obvious advantages in the field of UAV flight control, Lin Defu also led teachers and students to face the world, emerge in the world's science and technology arena, and start cooperation. In July 2017, the Beijing Institute of Technology-Khalifa University of Science and Technology International Joint Laboratory Construction Agreement was formally signed. In the fields of agriculture, climate, oil pipelines, and oceans, both parties will jointly carry out technical cooperation such as smart agriculture, submarine oil pipeline inspection, ocean exploration, human-machine integration, and unmanned driving, and promote all-round cooperation in science and technology, talents, education, etc.

"We will work hard to build a world-class technological innovation platform in the intelligent unmanned field, provide strong support for the development of China's 'Belt and Road' strategy, and contribute the wisdom of BIT and China's strength to the development of countries along the 'Belt and Road' route." said Lin Defu.

"Flying Eagle" Soaring, Creating a Characteristic Model for Leading Talent Training

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"BIT's flying eagle team wins the world championship again!" In February 2020, during the critical period of the nation's efforts to fight the Covid-2019, an exciting news flooded the screen in the circle of friends of BITers. After 2017, the BIT “Flying Eagles” team again won the championship of the “Collaborative Airborne Autonomous Ball” project in the MBZIRC2020 competition held by the UAE!

Winning the championship in the international arena fully reflects the technical advantages that Lin Defu’s team has accumulated in the field of UAV flight control. "A UAV dragged a small yellow ball in the sky and flew freely in an '8'-shaped trajectory. On the ground five poles were placed free-floating balloons for interference. UAVs participating in the competition need to autonomously track the target in the shortest time, grab the yellow ball, and pierce the interference balloon at the same time. " Song Tao, team teacher and technical leader of the "Flying Eagle" team, told us. "To complete the game, we must first overcome a series of technical difficulties, such as autonomous identification and precise capture of aerial maneuvering targets, information processing in a complex communication environment, and coordinated control of multiple UAVs. These are the current frontier technical problems in the field of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence, and they are also urgently needed application technologies in China. "

"Why does a scientific research team take part in the competition so many times?" Facing such a question, Lin Defu answered firmly and forcefully: "The mission of the university is to cultivate talents, and high-level competitions are a battlefield for us to cultivate leading talents!" How to embark on an international talent training road and train industry leaders who can solve the key "bottle-neck" problems in the national key fields is a question that Lin Defu has been thinking about. In 2015, a student science and technology innovation team with interdisciplinary, strong foundation, practice-oriented, and diverse academic structure-the "Flying Eagle" team was formally established. This is Lin Defu's answer.

Since then, the "Flying Eagles" team has always been oriented to major national needs, using high-level international science and technology innovation competitions as the starting point, and a "double helix" high-level talent training model of "teaching, research and innovation, academic technology and production" that crosses the two chains of "teaching + scientific research + science and innovation" and "academic + technology + industry" has been explored.

"'Teaching, research and innovation' solves the problem of combining theory and practice in the cultivation of innovative talents, while 'learning, technology and industry' answers the ultimate goal of cultivating talents." Lin Defu's "double helix" supports each other and is connected end to end, laying a solid foundation for cultivating leading leaders who are responsible for their mission and pursue excellence.

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In the "double helix", in addition to formulating a detailed training plan for the students, Lin Defu and the team also found a practical vehicle to participate in high-level science and technology innovation competitions. "The significance of students participating in science and technology innovation competitions is not only to win prizes, but to take the competition as the traction, to drive students to stimulate the consciousness of teamwork in the shortest time, to sharpen the willpower to devoting all efforts, and to exercise coordination, the ability to quickly solve problems with all resources, and the spirit of daring to showing sword in the face of strong players. These valuable spiritual qualities are all necessary to become a leading talent in the field of scientific research. "Lin Defu said.

Not only that, the team also focused on cultivating the students' home-country feelings, leading the student team to the grassroots level, actively serving the country's poverty alleviation strategy, and sending UAV clusters and key technologies for precise farmland management to impoverished areas. The students in poverty alleviation through science and technology have visited all over the poverty-stricken areas such as Fuping in Hebei, Lvliang in Shanxi, Pucheng in Fujian, Liuhe in Jilin, and Fangshan in Shanxi.

"During my postgraduate studies, I not only participated in the research and development of scientific research projects, but also applied relevant technologies to high-level international competitions and scientific and technological poverty alleviation. I am very proud to be able to contribute to the country, and I also strengthened my ideal of serving the country through science and technology." Wu Zeliang, a graduate student and core member of the "Flying Eagle" team, shared.

Guided by high-level international scientific research competitions and major national needs, we will condense scientific issues, use interdisciplinary and systematic engineering thinking to carry out research and technical breakthroughs, and transform scientific research results into practice to serve major national needs and regional economic and social development.

“Being Ambitious”, the "Small Team" Gathering "Great Synergy"

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"My mentor, Mr. Qi Zaikang, once taught me that the scientific spirit of being scientific, rigorous, truth-seeking, and pragmatic is required to conduct scientific research, and to build a national weapon, we must have a vision, a mind, and a feeling. Today, I have taken the baton from Qi Zaikang, reinterpreting this spirit in the context of the new era, and passing it on. " Said Lin Defu.

To build "the world's top technology platform for autonomous control of UAV" is Lin Defu's long-standing desire, and it is also the focus of the UAV autonomous control team to carry out scientific research. What’s more, it is aimed at the country's major strategic needs and the source of motivation to solve the "bottle-neck" problem. And this strong belief in defying hardships and serving the country is derived from the spiritual inheritance of the "aircraft man" represented by the founder of the discipline, Mr. Qi Zaikang.

"Although our team has a small number of people, it has strong cohesion and combat effectiveness, clear positioning, clear goals and highly consistent value recognition. It is for this reason that when facing major urgent tasks, we can quickly gather a strong joint force and work together, jointly respond to the challenge." Lin Defu regards the "great synergy" of the "small team" in this way.

The team has been on the front line for more than 20 years, committed to innovation, and serving major international strategic needs with practical actions. In 2012, a national key project encountered a technical problem, which has not been completely resolved after continuous technical research. The person in charge of the enterprise approached the Lin Defu’s team for help, at that time only three weeks were left before the project acceptance. After technical research and judgment, the team shouldered heavy responsibilities, concentrated on tackling key problems in 21 days, and completed the task well. In the team's scientific research experience, there are many similar things, but it is not accidental to solve technical problems in a short period. After this "struggle", the team has gained long-term cooperation with the company, and harvested a sincere friendship. The company has set up scholarships for the School of Aerospace Engineering where Lin Defu’s team is located, and established a stable training base for students. Both the university and enterprises have launched a new model of university-enterprise cooperation that promotes education through research, win-win cooperation, and coordinated development.

It is just because of the team's long-term advance layout around the country's major strategic needs that it can seize the opportunity to fly by the wind. “In the initial stage, there was not enough financial support, but we firmly believe that the research direction is right, and we will do it ourselves.” said team teacher Wang Wei. Without the advanced layout of the team, without three years of concentrated research, there would be no feat of "struggle" solving major national technical problems in three weeks.

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To build a high-level scientific research team, talents are the core, and the development of talents and team development complement and promote each other. How to train young teachers into leading talents and keep them motivated to run forward in the team has always been the focus of Lin Defu's thinking as a team leader. "Disciplines must develop internationally, and young teachers must first achieve internationalization." To this end, the team invested resources to specifically support young teachers to "go abroad."

In 2016, the team sent me to the UK for training. After returning to China, I was successfully selected into the Young Talents Support Project and the National Innovative Talents Program based on the laboratory platform. I truly feel that I and my team are growing together and the team’s centripetal force." Said He Shaoming, the youngest teacher in the team.

"Mission responsibility, family and country feelings, unity, collaborative innovation, and common progress". It is just because of such a highly recognized team spirit and culture that Lin Defu and team members have the willpower to sit on the "cold bench", the explosive power to steadily accumulate, the courage to face emergencies and dangers "not to drop the chain", and the "combat force" of "1+1>2". In recent years, the team has won numerous awards, including one second-class national invention award and five provincial and ministerial-level science and technology awards, achieving a leap-forward improvement in the technical level of national key project groups.

"In the future, the team will continue to serve the China’s major strategic needs and economic and social development, concentrate on cultivating people, integrate science and education, promote the cultivation of innovative leading talents, and contribute wisdom and strength to the strategy of strengthening our country by talent!" Lin Defu said.