Lab Manual


Introduction to IRL

The University of Illinois Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (IRL), officially established in 2015, is an initiative of the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL). IRL is a shared research facility which brings together world-class faculties and students to solve ambitious and challenging problems in mobile robotics. IRL is also a highly collaborative laboratory to unite research groups of various expertise across the campus to expand the frontier of robotics applications. IRL is pleased to recognize the many units of campus that embrace the notion of a shared facility designed to provide greater capabilities at lower costs for all interested faculty and who are helping fund its operations. These include:

  • College of Engineering
  • Coordinated Science Laboratory
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Mechanical Science and Engineering


The faculty associated with IRL span an even greater set of units reflecting the breadth and depth of expertise that can be drawn from by partnering with IRL. These include:

  • College of Engineering
  • College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
  • Coordinated Science Laboratory
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering
  • Mechanical Science and Engineering
  • Physics


IRL currently hosts an indoor drone arena, a 33x30x13 feet3 (10x9x4 m3) motion-capture volume with safety nets and a cushioned floor. The motion capture volume is covered by 8 Vicon T40 motion capture cameras capable of running at 370 frame per second with full frame resolution. Real-time positioning data of marker objects, captured by the Vicon motion capture system, can be streamed via local network or internet to devices interfaced with Vicon DataStream SDK. Currently the SDK supports C++ and Matlab programming. Vicon data can be also interfaced to ROS using vrpn_client_ros (updated from vicon_bridge).

Mobile Robotics Arena

The research activities at IRL are supported by NASA, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, and the University of Illinois. IRL is pleased to welcome any research group that are interested in using or contributing to IRL’s facility services to join the lab. The purpose of this manual is to present lab guide and user policies in a transparent manner with emphasis on safety, fairness and collegiality.


IRL’s missions are:

  • provide facilities and expertise for users to conduct research in mobile robotics
  • facilitate fast-prototyping of mobile robotics research platforms
  • develop software solutions for Vicon motion capture users
  • train students about remote piloting, safety procedures and skills to perform robotics-related experiments.


  • IRL Managing Director: Dr. Normand Paquin (
  • IRL Main Contact – Laboratory Manager and Robotics Shared Spaces Coordinator: Principal Research Engineer John M. Hart (jmhart3 @

Information about IRL can be found on IRL’s website.

Acknowledge IRL

The following acknowledgement must be included in all publications that incorporate any results obtained through the IRL facilities:

“… was carried out in part in the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, University of Illinois.”

Please also send the publication information (citation, DOI, or conference name and paper/poster title) to the lab manager.

The staff of the IRL may make major contributions to the research carried out by our users. The staff can have an important scientific role through the planning and realization of experiments, through the analysis and interpretation of data, or through a full collaboration in the research. When this occurs, the staff person should be included as a co-author on papers.

Key Parts of Manual
Use of the Lab
Lab Rules
Safety Training

Use of the Lab

The preferred mode of operation at IRL is self-use after completing the necessary training.  Perspective users may schedule a tour with the lab manager during office hours. After a brief process to become a formal user (see below) and completion of lab training, you can apply to get i-card access to the lab and reserve time for use of the lab facilities. Lab users can make lab reservations online.

Becoming a User

Perspective users should submit a short application (see requirements below) online. Every effort will be made to ensure decisions about the application will be sent back to the applicant and the applicant’s supervisor within 2 business days. When approved, a project number will be provided for use when making a facility use reservation. The purpose of the application is for IRL staff to help evaluate the experiment design, discuss with the user about improvements on the design in view of IRL’s resources and expertise, and finally document facility usage. In general, any mobile robotics-related project or Vicon users are encouraged to use the IRL facility.

The applicant need to prepare the following information using the online application form:

  • Title of the project
  • PI, co-PI and collaborators
  • The employer (if not UofI)
  • Principal point of contact (normally the primary user of the facility) and contact information (email; cell phone, work phone, etc.)
  • Status of all likely users with respect to completion of safety training including whether safety training and/or testing has been requested
  • Project funding information
  • Students and researchers assigned in this projects
  • An approximately 200 word project description
  • Configuration needs for the IRL if deviating from the standard
  • What facilities/tools/services do you expect from IRL
  • What time is expected to be requested: hours per week, number of weeks
  • Nature of hours per week: minimum block of time, daytime, evening time, night time
  • Special safety requests or exceptions based on nature of the experiment


Completing Lab Training

The lab staff provides office hours to introduce new users to IRL, covering the following topics:

  • Discuss/plan research work
  • Test mobile robots in the arena
  • Help using lab soldering and test equipment
  • Assist in robot assembly and repair
  • Introduce to the Vicon motion capture system
  • Comply with IRL rules and safety measures


To complete the training, a perspective IRL user must pass a lab-safety quiz, demonstrate Vicon operational competency (if applicable) and a flight test if the project involves flying UAVs in IRL.  Completion of these elements will be recognized through the assignment of a user facilities permission status. This will status will need to be included in reservation requests.

To comply with our safety rules and insurance requirements, we recommend that no user use the lab alone.  Before a user has completed lab training, such users can use the facility only accompanied by IRL staff and with advance notice to the IRL staff. Failure to follow these rules and other rules related to IRL use could result in suspension of user privileges.  Please take note that safety violations and investigations of incidents could result in closure of the facility for your group and possibly all users.

Making reservations to use the lab

After completing the lab training, users can schedule time and self-use the facility as long as all lab rules are followed. Please use the web-based reservation form. Please also include set-up time and reconfiguration time if you need to reconfigure the laboratory in a configuration that differs from standard. The standard set-up is for UAS flights with foam dispersed evenly across the floor and netting fully deployed. You will be expected to remove such foam when you require it and replace it at the end of your measurements. Addition of large fans for gust simulation are another example of deviations from the standard configuration.

Currently, a lab schedule is maintained on the IRL’s website. Please find an open time slot and submit the reservation request form online. After the appointment is approved, the requested time will appear on the lab schedule.

Lab Rules

Arena Vicon coordinate system as shown in the figure using a right-handed coordination convention

  • Items labeled as “Staff Only” must be handled by IRL staff; general users should not touch them.
  • Ask the lab manager before handling any items that you are not sure if you may handle it.
  • Ask the lab manager for permission before you need to move things in/out of the lab.

Using IRL space

Researchers who are part of an active project approved by IRL can use IRL facilities. IRL is located inside the CSL studio (1206 W. Clark, Urbana IL). As shown in the picture above, IRL users may use the Bench room and the Flying arena. The i-card access to the Bench room and the Flying arena can be obtained after completion of lab training.

It is worth stating again that IRL is a shared facility. As such IRL has strived to develop use policies that are fair to all. We also emphasize the importance for these facilities to be used safely and maintained in good operational order for all users and their respective colleagues.

Bench room

The Bench room is used a staging area for flight tests in the Flying arena and as an innovation center to build robotic platforms. IRL provides common tools for building and maintaining robots, as shown in the picture below. IRL users may recommend new tools for IRL to purchase. Please send your wish list to the IRL lab manager and include a brief explanation why IRL should have the tools you are recommending and how such tools might benefit other user, if applicable. The IRL staff will work their best to serve your research needs although budgetary considerations may limit IRL’s ability to acquire such tools promptly.

Specialized tools of use to a particular experiment or use can be brought by the user to IRL. The user should notify the Lab Coordinator/Manager and if reasonable, the lab manager will provide storage space for such equipment while the related project is completed.

All eleven benches are labeled by IRL from B1 to B11. B3 and B5 are IRL’s dedicated working bench area and are reserved for IRL daily users who have appointments on the online schedule. Users may apply to use other working benches for a long term following rules:

  • The user must have an active project at IRL approved by the IRL staff.
  • Any project material/equipment brought in and out of IRL must be reported on the log book at the entrance of room 1257.
  • Hazardous material should not be stored in the Bench room.
  • No more than two benches can be used by a single group if no more benches are available and there are demands from other groups.
  • The longest time span that can be reserved at one time is one month.
  • Renewal is possible and must be approved by the IRL staff.
    • IRL staff may turn down the renewal for reasons including but not limited to the following: the bench is not used more than 50% of the requested time, project priority, high demand of the Bench room from other users currently in the waiting list.
  • All lab rules are followed by the user.

Other rules in the Bench room:

  • Material/equipment brought in and out of the 1207 and 1208 must be reported to the lab manager and logged into a the log book at the entrance of room 1257. Materials/equipment belonging to IRL must not be removed from 1207 and 1208 unless written permission has been obtained from the Lab Manager.
  • Do not arm the motors of your multirotors if you have propellers on. i.e. disable the motor if you have propellers on the vehicle.
  • Do not drill or cut carbon-fiber material indoors: carbon-fiber power is toxic, you must talk to the lab coordinator/manager if your project requires modifying carbon-fiber material.
  • At the end of your experiment day, make sure to:
    • Clean and tidy your bench.
    • Restore the tool bench to its original configuration.
    • Unplug all power plugs.
    • Store your batteries according to the lab safety rules (See below).
    • Store any bulky equipment in the storage room 1256.
    • Shutdown your computers and close the door at 1257.
  • All lab rules are followed by the user. Failure to follow lab rules may result in consequences up to and including immediate termination of rights to use desk space.

Flying Arena

Room 1258 hosts the flying arena and Vicon motion capture cameras. The IRL working bench B3 and B5 will be automatically reserved with your reservation of room 1258. Please reserve your time online at least 2 days ahead of your experiment day. Please cancel any reserved time as soon as possible and at least 48 hours in advance when possible. At most two teams can share and alternate the use of the IRL work bench and the flying arena during the same session. If you do not want to share the usage with another team, you can specify it in your online reservation form. Reoccurring schedule is possible, please follow the format of the online reservation form and indicate your re-occurring experiments.  The maximum timespan the user can reserve  is 5 hours per day. Special requests, such as a daily repeating reservation of more than 5 hours, may need to be negotiated with IRL staff during high usage times.

A confirmation about your schedule will be sent back to you via email. You must be on the calendar in order to use the lab.  Note that users who consistently reserve and cancel time in the facility may find their access limited at the discretion of the lab manager.

Flying Arena Rules:

  • Vicon camera calibration will be checked weekly at 10:00am. If the calibration wand measurement is off by more than 1%, a new camera calibration will be performed at once. Monthly camera calibration will be performed at 10:00am the first Monday in the month.
  • The Vicon computer must be used for motion-capture related tasks.
  • Any vehicles must be approved by the Lab manager before they can be operated at IRL.
  • Pilots can fly their drones only after passing the flight test of the lab training session.
  • Drones that weigh more than 250g or have larger-than-5-inch propellers must only be armed inside the netted area.
  • All vehicles operated at IRL must have a printed preflight checklist, a fail-safe setup and a kill-switch setup that are approved by the IRL lab manager. Non-flying vehicles (ground autonomous vehicles or equipment, for example) must provide equally safe and preventive check lists.
    • Preflight check: a check list of states of your robot system before you should arm and operate the robot.
    • Fail-safe setup: when the vehicle loses connection to the controller, the vehicle should stop moving.
    • Kill-switch: when the kill-switch is engaged, the vehicle should be disarmed and all moving parts should stop.
  • Drones must not be flown closer than 2m to any Vicon camera.
  • When flying drones that have larger-than-5-inch propellers or are powered by 3S LiPo or more powerful batteries, safety glasses must be worn and safety gloves must be worn when handling the drone. IRL has provided safety glasses and safety gloves at the entrance of the flying arena. Please restore the safety equipment after usage.
  • When flying a vehicle tethered to the ground using a safety cable provided by IRL, no more than 3 people can be inside the netting arena simultaneously. When flying a free vehicle, no one can be inside the netting arena; everyone should be outside the netting arena before the vehicle can take off.
  • No carbon-fiber or metal prop-vehicles larger than 5 inches can be operated inside IRL.
    • large spinning carbon-fiber or metal propellers are extremely dangerous.
    • The benefit of using them is minimum inside IRL flying arena.
    • When using a small carbon-fiber or metal-prop vehicles, all operators must be outside the netting area and wear safety glasses. When retrieving a landed carbon-fiber or metal-prop vehicle inside the netting area, protection gloves must be used. In general, use extra caution for dealing with carbon-fiber or metal-prop vehicles.
  • When operating your robots inside IRL, be alert and clear. You should:
    • stand at least five feet away from vehicle, behind the netting
    • everyone must be mentally alert
    • before making any move, communicate with others loud and deliberate
    • Before arming, the pilot must shout it out: “Arming!”
    • Before taking off, the pilot must shout it out: “Taking off”
    • To land the vehicle, the pilot must shout it out: “Landing”
    • Only after disarming a landed vehicle, the pilot must shout it out: “Disarmed”
    • Disconnect the main battery to your vehicle as soon as you can after the vehicle is landed.
  • User must use extra caution to recover a crash or when performing a maiden flight/experiment
  • When retrieving a crashed UAV or other possibly damaged equipment or autonomous vehicle, safety glasses and safety gloves must be worn and proper shoes and attire must be worn. If uncertain of the safety of the operation to be undertaken, you must notify the IRL Lab Manager or other senior CSL official and obtain permission before proceeding.
  • Maximum timespan the user can reserve the lab is 5 hours; Special requests, such as a repeating reservation of more than 5 hours, may need to be negotiated with IRL staff during time of high usage.
  • The LED strobe lights on Vicon cameras have a certain lifttime. To prolong the service of Vicon instruments, if the Vicon cameras are not being used for data aquisition for longer than 45 min, the cameras should be turned off; the computer which controls the Vicon cameras can be left on to maintain your work state.
  • All lab rules are followed by the user. Failure to follow lab rules may result in consequences up to and including immediate termination of rights to use desk space.

Safety Rules

Most of the lab safety rules are already described above in lab rules. Here additional safety rules are specified and some important safety rules are repeated.

Handling LiPo batteries:

  • Fully charged LiPo batteries must be stored in fire-resistant sacks.
  • Always use “1C” to charge your LiPo battery, namely the maximum charging rate you can use is 1 times the battery capacity rating, with the units changed to amps, e.g. if your battery has a capacity rating of 2200mah, you should charge your battery at 2.2 amp.
  • Always charge batteries inside the provided fire-resistant container, shown in the picture below:


  • To dispose old LiPo batteries, properly discharge the battery using the discharge function of the charger, submerge them in salt water for at least a week then you can safely throw them into trash; LiPo batteries are environmentally safe. If you want to dispose a LiPo battery at IRL, talk to the lab manager who will handle the disposal for you.
  • Never use a punctured LiPo battery; if your LiPo battery gets a puncture in a crash for example, go find the lab manager immediately. Never try to charge or discharge a punctured LiPo battery; fire or explosion could occur. The lab manager is the only authorized person to handle a punctured LiPo battery at IRL.
  • When not using the LiPo battery for more than 10 days, please use the storage function of the charger to properly maintain the LiPo battery per-cell voltage at the storage value (~3.8 V).
  • Fire extinguishers are located at the entrance of room 1257 in case of fire, always notify the Lab manager or other Senior CSL staff and contact fire department by calling 911.


Handling Nitro fuel:

  • Nitro-powered engines should be operated outdoors only.


Handling flight tests

  • Please refer to the Flying arena rules


Using IRL space:

  • Flight tests can be performed in the flying arena only.
  • Aerial robots that weigh more than 250g cannot carry propellers with main battery plugged outside of the flying arena room 1258.
  • Hardware building and maintenance should be carried out in the Bench room 1257.
  • Bulky equipment should be put into the Storage room 1256 at the end your experiment day. You can store some bulky equipment in the Storage room 1256 for a long period provided that you have an active project at IRL and the equipment is required in your experiments.
  • Please keep your cubic spaces clean and tidy.
  • You may keep your experiment setup on your working bench overnight provided you disconnect all power cords and properly organized the space such that it is clean and tidy.
  • Batteries not in use must be stored in fire-resistant LiPo sacks. If the batteries won’t be used in more than 10 days, please use the storage function of the charger to properly maintain the LiPo battery per-cell voltage at the storage value (~3.8 V).
  • Please lock all doors if you are the last person leaving the lab.


Violations to safety rules: the user who violates IRL’s safety rules will be subject to consequences up to and including the suspension of user privileges; such users will also be required to go through IRL lab training again. Before the violator can pass the lab training, the violator cannot use facilities at IRL. Violations of safety will be reported to the supervisor of the violator, the CSL facilities manager and be recorded in the Lab Manager’s logbook. Damages resulting from violations may be billed and expected to be paid for by the violator and/or the violator’s superior.

Lab Manager Office Hours

The IRL Manager has the following office hours (subject to change):

  • Tuesdays: 10am – 11am
  • Thursdays: 2pm – 3pm
  • Fridays: 3pm – 4pm
  • Additional hours may be added upon request


You can request a time for your Safety Training or Flight Test purposes by sending a request via email to the Lab Manager.

Usage Rates

Open to All University Users at This Time

The following are future guidelines are currently under consideration:

IRL is a shared facility that must cover costs and be able to invest in regular upgrades in order to continue to operate and maintain its ability to permit its users to undertake cutting edge research. As such, the following guidelines have been developed for different types of users.

  • For University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign users
    • Those whose primary appointment is in departments supporting IRL operations
      • Access is open and at no cost
    • Those whose primary appointment is in departments not supporting IRL operations
      • Please consult the lab manager for no cost access
    • Those providing equipment of benefit to IRL and its user community
      • Special arrangements will be considered
  • For industry users
    • These will require the completion and approval of a facilities use agreement
  • We anticipate usage policies and fees to be reviewed on an annual basis to reflect changes in support and costing

Safety Training

Safety Taring will include the following:

  • Introduction to general lab rules
  • Lab safety procedures
  • Usage of available equipment
  • Safe operation inside the flying arena

Flight Tests and Practice Flying Multicopters


  • For student that have not flown a UAV, we have the following available for reservation:
    • Multiple hours of practice flight time with our multicopter flight simulator in the IRL Builders Room (1257)
    • Use our student practice quadrotor for practicing flying in the IRL Flying Arena (Rm 1258)
  • Flight Tests for pilots include being able to perform the following maneuvers with the IRL training quadcopter:
    • Hovering at 4 orientations
    • Bank-turn circling
    • Figure-8 circling (may be done in simulator)
  • In addition, pilots must demonstrate a flight with their own aerial robotic platform and equipment to be used for their research experimentation:
    • Perform the pre-flight check using their own pre-flight checklist.
    • Perform a typical flight in the actual experiment
    • Demonstrate the fail-safe and kill switch settings


Video Tutorials (under development)

A number of general safety tutorials are available on-line. The following are required. Users should complete these and print certificate of completions for inclusion in their user qualification materials. These are:

  • LiPo battery safety
  • Radio fail safe settings
  • Fire extinguisher usage
  • Safe soldering

A number of additional safety or equipment use videos are recommended for viewing if they are applicable to the experiments users are expecting to undertake. Examples include:

Until IRL specialized video tutorials are completed, users should go to training session with the Lab Manager to complete training requirements.


Pilot training for fixed-wings (TBD)

This will be a collaboration with Champaign County R/C Club. Student pilots will be introduced to the CCRCC flight school. The training is free-of-charge.



IRL staff welcome suggestions for improvement of operations and facilitation of usage to the extent possible. Please provide suggestions in person during office hours or email suggestions to the Lab Manager/Coordinator. If you feel that your comments and suggestions are not being addressed in a reasonable time frame, feel free to contact the IRL Lab Director.