Another Day At The Office

It was a hot day in Toronto yesterday; a last blast of the summer that seemed to elude us during the months of July and August; almost as if all heat was banked, then unleashed in a single extended wave.

Yesterday, on the Ontario highway that leads to our flight field, the temperature was 34.5° C.

And so, of course, that would be the day one of our generators chose to stop working. In the field, there’s not much choice: It’s hands-on. Engineers David Vorsin and Waqas Khan were soon on the case – but the generator wasn’t cooperating.

Engineers David Vorsin (l) and Waqas Khan methodically work over a recalcitrant generator. Photo by Scott Simmie/SkyX

Our two on-site generators provide power for our computers and data systems, our weather station, our xStation, and – just as important yesterday – the air conditioning in our small control centre. The faulty generator meant the air conditioner couldn’t work. Nir Katz, director of software engineering, was inside that small, stifling trailer.

Nir Katz, still smiling, despite a very hot trailer

One of the things you learn about engineers (in addition to how smart they are), is how methodically they tend to tackle problems. It’s as if the analytical portion of their brains takes command – and any frustrations are pushed to the side. Challenges are broken down into constituent components, and the search for solutions is on. It’s calm. It’s calculated. And, likely, very different from how many of us might approach such a problem on such a day.

Really, picture it: You’re out in the sun and one of your two generators stops. The machine offers no immediate clues as to its failure. Your task? To lean over this near-molten piece of machinery and carefully figure out what’s wrong – then fix it.

It’s not just the logic involved. It’s the teamwork that’s impressive. Two (or three) brains are better than one – and troubleshooting suggestions and solutions are tossed back and forth with a practiced ease. After numerous (numerous)  attempts, the machine roared back to life.

SkyX was back on track.

Engineer Waqas Khan, post-repair

Once the repair was complete (and you can see from the canopy shadow it was late afternoon by this point), it was back to work: Flying SkyOne autonomously on a pre-determined circuit (within visual line of sight), then having the aircraft make a pinpoint landing on the xStation. Once there it does some data swapping, performs a systems check, recharges. Then it does it all over again.

How did it go? Perfectly.

Our flying robot has this down pat now, transitioning from vertical to horizontal flight, making precision turns at pre-programmed way-points, then transitioning back to vertical flight for a smooth and pinpoint landing.

It’s a wonder to watch; a sophisticated ballet that combines aerospace design, structural engineering, endless hours of coding and patience, and the most important ingredient of all: Teamwork.

Here’s how the day ended.

It was still hot out, but this was pretty cool.

Just look at that.