Unmanned aerial vehicles take flight

by Taylor Tomasini, Aerospace Engineering ‘12

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) helicopter project is all about expanding knowledge and interest  in areas of non-traditional fields of aerospace engineering. The focus of student projects at Florida Tech has historically been on airplanes and rockets. UAV helicopters add a new and interesting dimension for those studying aerospace engineering.

The student-run newspaper, the Crimson, recently featured the details of our upcoming Florida Tech VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) UAV Competition with fellow students. In a nutshell, the competition was born from similar senior design projects going head to head.

“We input GPS coordinates, push a button and (the UAV helicopter) takes off. It flies the grid we are trying to search, and if it locates Compound Charlie, we push a stop button. The UAV hovers and drops its care package, and returns to base on its own.”

The goal is for the UAVs to recognize “Compound Charlie,” a human shaped dummy, as it flies on its own. The competition is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, April 15, 2012 (with a back-up date of April 22nd if there is inclement weather).

We hope this initial competition will lead to future involvement in similar competitions. Perhaps we can get to a point we can involve NASA or SAE and make this into a larger national competition.

The most rewarding part of working on UAV’s is doing something completely new. My team and I are bringing our studies to a different level by further exploring the dynamics of helicopters and autopilots.

The class that helped us understand the dynamics of building UAVs has definitely been mechatronics, where we combined the use of software with the knowledge we had gained in our more theoretical classes.

For students thinking of starting a similar build competition, I would say don’t be afraid to dream big. You are only limited by the goals you set for yourself. At the beginning of this process we were very ambitious with our goals, and to this point it has caused our team to far exceed what we thought possible at the beginning.

Please follow our progress leading up to the competition here.

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