The 2021 Galois Balloween Workshop

We recently hosted the 2021 Galois Balloween Workshop. This year it was held virtually, but we hope to have attendees join us in one of our offices next time. We have all attended so many virtual events in the last year and a half, so we wanted to make this workshop fun, hence the name Balloween. Plus, it was just before Halloween, so we like to think we might have started a new holiday!

The workshop brought together a diverse group of autonomy and cyber-physical systems researchers across academia and industry, 21 to be exact, to explore building a next-generation, high endurance, autonomous, lighter-than-air vehicle. Why did we choose a blimp or balloon? Good question. Because blimps:

  • are not a quadcopter and focus on endurance over speed/maneuverability.
  • provide an excellent platform to research problems in persistent autonomy 
  • are energy-constrained, that require innovative control and planning strategies
  • need to operate safely and efficiently with large environmental disturbances
  • are challenging to control due to non-linear and time-delayed dynamics
  • are slow, non-agile platform and can tolerate slower computation speeds and delays
  • are relaxing to watch.

The workshop’s goal was to understand the state of the art from a new perspective and ask: How would we design the coolest autonomous blimp that the research community can build?

15-minute lightning talks spread over two half-days allowed every attendee to highlight how their research contributes to solving the challenge problem. We heard talks ranging from cybersecurity to safety, from air traffic control concerns to using blimps as mobile recharge stations for traditional quadcopters. One key insight was that the control of blimp represents a very different time scale than quadcopters, or even fixed-wing aircraft: very few decisions need to be made quickly, but the decision a control system makes now can have huge effects on its ability to meet its goals much later on. Finally, we discussed how we could evaluate different designs for lighter-than-air craft: from small blimps that can operate in an indoor office space to massive airships that can carry cargo across the globe. Each has its benefits, concerns, and operating principles: how can we leverage modern system design tools to evaluate and simulate these digitally?

We’ll have all the recorded talks on our Youtube channel very soon. Let us know if you want to stay in touch and possibly join us for the next series of workshops focused on the design and trustworthiness of cyber-physical systems! We would be happy to have you and honored to celebrate Balloween with you.