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eCurrents - Designing and Building the Future!

A publication of the Lyles College of Engineering at California State University, Fresno

Profiles on Excellence - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV( Project at Fresno State

Fresno's Extreme Home Makeover ProjectThe Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) project at California State University, Fresno has entered its second year of operation after having successfully completed its first year's goals. The project involves four faculty members: Gemunu Happawana, Gregory Kriehn, Walter Mizuno and Reza Raeisi. Up to fifteen students from both the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Departments of the Lyles College of Engineering, have combined efforts to develop a working UAV. The project is being funded by Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB).

The first phase of the project began in September 2008 by recruiting students and setting the goals for Phase I. In collaboration with the sponsors at EAFB, the goal for Phase I was to develop a UAV with an onboard laser and video camera that could be flown remotely by a pilot. Once a target was identified, the laser and video camera would be pointed toward the target, regardless of the UAV's location within the test area. The target is slightly larger than a card table, about 1 meter by 1 meter in size. The plane’s altitude during the testing would be approximately 400 feet. With the basic performance specifications in place, the students and faculty set out to do preliminary research and analysis. After much discussion, a commercially available RC airplane was chosen as the UAV "platform."

The selected airplane had a wingspan of approximately nine feet and a payload capacity of approximately ten pounds. The video from a cockpit camera with a heads-up display and/or the video feed from the targeting camera could be displayed in real-time by the ground-based monitors. A sensor array package allowed for real-time data gathering of altitude, attitude, heading, temperature, pressure, GPS information and system status.

Students from the different disciplines were integrated into the various teams representing aircraft, propulsion, power, sensors, vibrations, camera/gimbal, and video systems. The students participating in the project ranged from college freshman to graduate students. Most students participated because they wanted to get some experience in designing and building a "real system."

Participating students had a passion for the project and were excited about the technology they were applying to a "real system." One of the most important aspects of the project that students appreciated was the teamwork and leadership skills developed as a result of the project. More experienced students mentored new members of the group. Some students, regardless of their academic standing, became experts in certain areas. Students developed various nontechnical skills while participating on the project and understood responsibilities and deadlines. This was all demonstrated during a successful test flight at EAFB in June 2009. Base personnel were invited to witness the students working as a team and successfully demonstrating the UAV capabilities. Students had the opportunity to exchange ideas with professionals and get honest feedback on their project.

As a result of the successful performance of the UAV, in 2009, EAFB funded a second phase of the project. Phase II allowed the students to further develop the plane and its capabilities. New students were recruited for the second phase because some students have graduated and moved on to permanent jobs. Enthusiasm ran high and another flight demonstration in June 2010 at EAFB demonstrated the progress made on the project since the last test flight. The performance of the UAV and team were so succesful that a third phase has been announced as this article goes to press.

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