Event promotes student collaboration in programming quadcopters

Drones are seeing increased use in a broad array of applications, including data collection, surveying, mapping, security, aerial photography and videography, and search and rescue.

This “exploding industry” has created a demand for people skilled in programming the tiny flying copters so they can carry out their designated tasks.

In conjunction with the 125th anniversary of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeringat the University of Delaware, students had the opportunity to participate in a drone competition using DJI Matrice 100 drones — quadcopters that are made specifically for developers.

“The competition was completely student driven,” says department chair Kenneth Barner. “Students defined the challenge and formed the multidisciplinary teams. They adapted the drone platforms to include custom sensors and then wrote custom controls software.”

Senior Will Beardell says that the competition began as an idea both to celebrate the anniversary of the department and to showcase students’ ability to solve problems using the latest technologies and platforms.

“The final competition consisted of three teams of four students each, and the prize was awarded to the team that was able to program their drone to follow the course in the least amount of time,” Beardell says. “The drones had onboard Raspberry Pi micro-sized computers that used cameras to detect the course and sent commands to the drones to follow along.”

“The drones used in the competition offer a modular development platform that can be used for a wide array of applications such as surveying solar panels to find defective panels or capturing images of buildings for digital recreations,” he adds.

The winning team, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Drone, consisted of freshman Theodore Fleck and senior Matt Leung, both computer engineering majors, and Ryan McCawley and Justin Chu, both juniors in mechanical engineering.

In the fall, the drones will be integrated into the VIP (Vertically Integrated Projects) program in electrical and computer engineering to allow students to delve more deeply into the possibilities for these devices.

Specifically, within the Flying Labs employing Intelligent Engineering, or FLIE, project, students will develop algorithms, methods, and systems to address challenging contemporary problems using the drones as autonomous flying labs.