SINGAPORE: When Mr Yeoh Li Tune heard that his crew on the chipset maker Qualcomm was going to work with the Nationwide Aeronautics and House Administration (NASA) on a mission that was actually out-of-this-world, he was thrilled.
The Qualcomm director of engineering and 6 colleagues in Singapore had been put in command of testing the processor chip that acted because the mind of NASA’s Ingenuity, a 1.8kg helicopter concerning the measurement of a tissue field.
The area company hoped to autonomously fly Ingenuity on Mars in what could be the primary powered and managed flight on one other planet.
The experimental mission is aimed toward paving the best way for aerial exploration of Mars and different locations within the photo voltaic system, like Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan.
However for Ingenuity to obtain and execute instructions for the autonomous operation 278 million kilometres from Earth, its processor chip – which tells the machine what to do in areas starting from flying and navigation to taking images – should merely work the best way it was designed to.
Moreover, the chip should endure the intense situations that Ingenuity could be uncovered to, together with radiation and the chilly evenings on Mars – the place temperatures might drop under minus 60 levels Celsius.
This meant that the chip wanted to be evaluated strenuously utilizing strong checks, a course of Mr Yeoh referred to as “efficiency characterisation”. And this is the place Mr Yeoh’s crew steps in.
“Clearly, the crew was very excited to contribute to the efficiency characterisation of the design inside the chip,” stated the 48-year-old Mr Yeoh.
“When there is a failure, we have to spend important time to grasp the difficulty and to principally repair it. It’s a very rigorous course of as effectively for us.”
HOW THE PROCESSOR SUITS INGENUITY
Mr Yeoh and his crew are not any strangers to testing Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 processor, which may be discovered in lots of smartphones and tablets at this time.
“Our crew develops the take a look at options, verifies the design of the chip and brings it to industrial manufacturing,” he stated.
The Snapdragon processor can be the idea for Qualcomm’s flight platform, which the corporate stated is available in an “extraordinarily small and sturdy bundle” and focuses on options like ultra-high-definition video and flight help. The flight platform can be utilized in shopper drones.
“These had been all options that got here to thoughts when JPL thought of the constraints of remotely working a helicopter on Mars, and the advanced algorithms the helicopter would wish to compute,” Qualcomm stated on its web site.
JPL refers to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which constructed Ingenuity.
Whereas the Qualcomm Singapore crew is used to testing the Snapdragon processor, Mr Yeoh stated placing it in a helicopter sure for Mars is a “completely totally different factor”.
“This explicit Snapdragon processor that truly went into Ingenuity is likely one of the first main tasks for the Singapore crew,” he added.
TESTING AND RE-TESTING
A significant mission like this might not come with out challenges, and Mr Yeoh stated this included lots of excessive testing, repeat testing and amassing troves of information over 9 months. Qualcomm declined to provide precise mission dates, citing inside insurance policies.
Sometimes, the difficulty may not be with the chip, however with the take a look at itself.
The crew, as an example, as soon as examined the chip in freezing temperatures by hitting it with a jet of chilly air and found that it was not producing the proper outcomes.
“We wanted to verify if it was as a result of programme, the silicon (on the chip), the software program or issues like that,” Mr Yeoh stated.
“There are so many alternative items that would go flawed as effectively, so we simply need to remove step-by-step and perceive the foundation trigger.”
This tedious course of might additionally contain one thing referred to as “failure evaluation”, the place the chip – which comprises constructions so small they can’t be seen by the bare eye – is examined utilizing x-rays.
The crew stored repeating the chilly take a look at and analysing the information, and located that the difficulty was linked to the take a look at. They tweaked the take a look at programme and the chip finally handed.
“So, it was extra understanding that and fixing the programme … the silicon itself was nonetheless good truly,” Mr Yeoh added.
A HUGE CELEBRATION
However, Mr Yeoh stated the crew remained “motivated” regardless of the grind, particularly because it was additionally testing high-speed interfaces within the processor for the primary time. These interfaces connect with totally different components of Ingenuity, together with its digital camera.
“This was one of many few main tasks that we began and we had been studying loads truly. So, it didn’t really feel like a boring second,” he added.
When information emerged that NASA would quickly try Ingenuity’s maiden flight, the crew adopted the updates religiously.
“A number of of us had been eagerly awaiting the information on when Ingenuity will truly take flight and whether or not the primary flight would profitable,” Mr Yeoh stated, highlighting that this began when NASA’s rover Perseverance, which carried Ingenuity, landed on Mars in February.
“It took some time earlier than the helicopter received launched. I assume it’s a very delicate factor – there have been a couple of days after they unwrapped it after which tried to maintain it heat.
“A number of of us had been following the information fairly intently, texting one another, saying it’s going to be quickly.”
Then on Apr 9, NASA found a technical glitch throughout a take a look at spin of the helicopter’s rotors, delaying the launch by per week.
However so far as Ingenuity’s processor was involved, Mr Yeoh stated his crew was certain it will work.
“We wished to know that it truly works, however we had been quietly very assured,” he stated.
Lastly on Apr 19, it occurred.
Flight controllers in California confirmed Ingenuity’s transient hop after receiving knowledge by way of Perseverance, which stood watch greater than 65m away.
Mr Yeoh and his colleagues texted one another their congratulations, as Qualcomm’s engineers in California who additionally labored on the mission celebrated at an enormous viewing celebration.
Some of the crew members in Singapore additionally tuned in just about to the viewing celebration. If it was not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore crew would have had its personal in-person celebration too.
Mr Yeoh stated his crew was “very grateful for this chance to be a part of historical past within the making”.
“We really feel proud and I’ll say it’s a large affirmation and recognisation of the engineering ability units developed in Qualcomm Singapore,” he added.
“As a result of lots of occasions, I believe folks are likely to focus extra on the front-end stuff like how the wafers had been manufactured or how the design happened.
“However I believe product and take a look at growth is an equally essential piece of labor. And I believe this type of reminds us that what we do is essential as effectively.”