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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Trio Wins Rummer Design Award

Published on July 12th, 2013 by Michelle Ward

Successfully turning a remote-controlled toy helicopter into an autonomous drone earned three seniors departmental honors and a $1,000 cash award. 

The team of Joseph Pince, Ben Weintrub, and Ashley Jurgeson won the Computer Engineering (CoE) Rummer Design Award for its senior project. (Video here.) The group divided the yearlong endeavor into three smaller individual projects, on-board software development, a communication system, and an Android app, that when combined achieved autonomous flight to a specified location. 

“Winning the Rummer Award was quite validating,” said Jurgeson. “It helped me feel like the thing we had been working on for an entire year meant something. We accomplished something quite fantastic.” 

Distinguished Professor Joseph Evans, who teaches the Computer Systems Design Laboratory course (EECS 542), selected the winning team.While all six teams received the same base equipment, a Parrot AR. Drone 2.0 and a Nexus computer tablet, they had tremendous flexibility in building their system.

Pince developed the main flight control algorithm, which integrated the on-board operating system and programs with added sensors. The modified drone could then communicate with internal and external applications and process navigation data. After receiving coordinates, the drone would lift, rotate, fly five meters, and repeat the process to ensure it stayed on course.  

“It was a platform we had to learn from scratch, so there was a lot of research and experimentation. It was a great learning experience,” said Pince. “The project helped me get my job with Digital Ally [a Lenexa-based company that specializes in advanced surveillance equipment for law enforcement].”

Weintrub developed a one-way communication system that sent updated latitude, longitude, and compass measurements to the drone. Affixed to the top of the drone, an Arduino circuit board connected the navigational tools and sent updates via a serial port. It enabled an interactive drone that could take input from sensors and control outputs, such as propellers.

“I get a feeling it is what the business world would be like for an engineer. You are given a problem, and it might not be very well defined at the time. But that is part of the job, you have to come up with the solution,” said Weintrub, who will graduate this fall with a double major in physics and engineering physics. ”It was a lot of fun.”

With no Android programming experience on the team, Jurgeson volunteered for the endeavor. Like her teammates, she first conducted extensive research. Through trial and error, Jurgeson developed an app that would open a map on an Android device, allow a user to select a location, and send its latitude and longitude to the drone. It used Wifi to send the coordinates to the drone.

“The entire thing was quite a challenge, but it was a lot of fun,” said Jurgeson, who is now working for Aeroflex, a provider of specialized test and measurement equipment. “It [the class] allows you to apply everything you have been developing―all the knowledge, skills,  teamwork, research, and coding—into one giant project.”