Students at Iowa State University showed off their creations last week on campus believe that one day UAS will dot Iowa’s skies, saving lives and improving the environment one unmanned flight at a time.
The passion projects, created by students in their spare time, range from small hand-launched aircraft to solar-powered aircraft. Other projects at last week’s Make to Innovate Expo included Mars rovers and flight simulators.
One of those students, Adam Kaplan, 23, an ISU senior in aerospace engineering, began his CyDrone project in 2009 in a garage as an extension of his lifelong love of flying. A group of 10 students now works on it.
Kaplan said his lightweight aircraft, launched by hand with a running start, are a far cry from the military drones the Iowa National Guard could remotely pilot in Des Moines starting next year. He imagines peaceful civilian uses: measuring radioactive contamination from the Japanese nuclear disaster in 2011, searching a wooded field with an infrared camera for a missing child, or locating survivors after a hurricane or flood.
Inspiration for ISU’s annual Make to Innovate Expo came after the director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in 2010 told Congress that “to innovate, we must make,” said Rich Wlezien, chairman of ISU’s aerospace engineering department. Last week, 105 students and 15 groups showcased their work. “I believe these technologies will change the world,” Wlezien said.
Professors, students and industry representatives wandered from booth to booth last week. Silver-haired men in suits with name tags from aviation companies like Boeing and Rockwell Collins peppered students with questions.
Companies sometimes invest in student projects. Kaplan said CyDrone has received university funding and small grants from Boeing, an international aviation company. Materials for each drone cost about $3,000.
The ISU aerospace engineering department receives $6 million per year in outside research funding, Wlezien said. Top contributors are NASA, the National Science Foundation, aerospace company Pratt and Whitney, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.
University students and hobbyists around the country are developing UAS, but Kaplan said the focus and capabilities of the CyDrone are unusual. It’s affordable and adaptable to a variety of uses, and can cover wide swaths of ground thanks to a range of about five miles. The operator can always reroute the UAS mid-flight or take manual control at any time.
“We want to be the jack-of-all trades”, he said. “There’s no runway required, no hangar required.”
Patrick Vogel, an aerospace engineer whose company does work for Boeing, drove from St. Louis to see a simulation programme that allows for the design and testing of an aircraft entirely on a computer.
“The professor of these guys, an old friend of mine, told me I had to come up here to see this,” he said. “I’ve just been impressed beyond belief.”
The ISU graduate students who designed the simulator said they didn’t get into aerospace engineering for the money. Dave Sikorski, 25, said he and his grandfather loved to watch space shuttle launches.
His classmate, Alex Lee, 25, smiled as he recalled building bottle rockets in his youth.
Kaplan’s interest in UAS comes from a childhood fascination in Sioux City with planes of all types. He said he hoped as a kid to become a commercial pilot, but Type 1 diabetes forced him to abandon that dream.
He now focuses on the CyDrone project, which he will hand off to the next generation of undergraduates when he earns his degree this spring.
“I don’t want want to say aerospace engineering was my number two, but it was a way for me to do technical work with my passion,” Kaplan said.
Source: DesMoines Register