Design and implementation of drones as a multidisciplinary engineering learning tool

  • Juana Martínez-Heredia
  • Sergio Camargo
  • Ana Isabel Gálvez
  • Javier Utrera

1) Introduction.

An extracurricular project was proposed, addressed to third year undergraduate students of Aerospace Engineering, consisting of research about autonomous aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones, RPAS) with the aim of allowing applicants to achieve the technological knowledge necessary to design, manufacture and operate a customized vehicle conceived for a specific application, which was to be defined as part of the project itself.

2) Method.

First, it was necessary to conduct a previous study regarding the feasibility of the project and the potential uses for such vehicles. A budget was allocated for the materials that would be needed to complete the project. Certain restrictions were imposed, mainly on the maximum allowed dimensions and weight of the aircraft. These restrictions were based primarily on legal limitations.

It was decided that the implementation of the vehicle would take the form of a quadrotor due to its relative ease of manufacturing and the widespread documentation available thanks to the recent boom in amateur quadrotor building. Another positive aspect of employing such an aircraft would be the possibility to focus more on the customization and the specific final use of the drone rather than on the mechanics of achieving controlled flight of a technology that is not mature yet.

Two missions were proposed for two different drones: the first consisted of an autonomous vehicle capable of following a movable object, e.g. a person running, while avoiding potential obstacles and thus preventing the aircraft from crashing. The second consisted of a drone with onboard thermal vision and signal processing capabilities, enabling it for a variety of purposes, ranging from pest control to wildlife and crop health monitoring, detection of targets in search and rescue operations or military missions.

3) Results.

Along the course of the project, the students had to do extensive research on the state of the art of quadrotor propulsion and control technology, design a system adjusted to a tight budget, integrating several different Commercial-Of-The-Shelf items together with custom designed parts, mainly manufactured through additive layer technologies (3D printing), and engineer a system to provide for the needs defined in the specifications required from each project, all while adhering to the given deadlines.

Every single part of both drones was successfully tested, with special care with the power supply. Finally, with both drones ready and tested, a few flight tests could be made. Parameters such as controllability, stability and flight modes provided by the flight controller were taken into consideration. The results were satisfactory.

4) Conclusions.

With this project of design and construction of an operational drone, the involved students of the degree in Aerospace Engineering have been able to put into practice knowledge of other branches of engineering such as materials, aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, graphic design, control, etc., or acquire new knowledge on those branches. Besides, they have worked as a team to combine knowledge, skills and efforts pursuing a single and broad goal: the successful drone flight.

Palabras clave

Drones Educational Innovation Engineering Education Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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Juana María Martínez-Heredia

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