August 5, 2008

Team Receives Four Awards at Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Competition

The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) team received four awards at the International Aerial Robotics Competition held at Fort Benning , Georgia . The team took first place in the 2006 and second in the 2007 competition.

The competition, sponsored by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, challenges students to launch an aerial vehicle, navigate a series of global positioning system waypoints and fly three kilometers to a complex of buildings where the vehicle must search the perimeter of each building for a specified symbol. The vehicle then must launch a second vehicle that enters the building, captures video or photos of a specified type of data and transmits that data back to the starting point. The entire operation must be fully automated.

The team received the Best Technical Paper Award, Best T-shirt Design Award and tied with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech for the Best System Design Award. The team made two fully autonomous flights but did not complete any of the stages. They received more than $8,000 in prize money for their efforts. Chief Engineer, Justin Williamson, thought the competition was a success. “The competition didn't go as we had hoped but it still worked out to where we could demonstrate the capabilities of our system. The team not only made great friends from different schools, but we showed that the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is a professional competitor in the world of unmanned systems.”

Team member Mark Sauder (industrial engineering 04), and team guest, Reed Christiansen ( Procerus Technologies), received a special award for Sportsmanship for helping the California State University at Northridge (CSUN) team bring their helicopter down from a very unsafe altitude to a lower altitude where their pilot could take over and land it successfully.  The CSUN team was having technical difficulties and Sauder and Christiansen shared their knowledge of controls and understanding of VTOL vehicles to save their helicopter. John Heiberger was also involved in the heroic act but was unrecognized. In announcing the award, the judges stated the award was for actions far beyond the call of duty.

The UAV team is part of the Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing and Production, also known as CAMP, at the School of Mines . CAMP is a program that uses teams to offer an innovative engineering and science education and teach team-building and other skills students need and future employers want.

Click here to view pictures from the 2008 Competition and other previous years.

November 14, 2007

The past week has been yet another outstanding week for the team. On Friday, November 9th, a camera man came from the Rapid City Journal came to take pictures of our helicopter for an article announcing that a defense bill has been sent to the president for approval. This bill will provide major funding for the UAV Team. We woke up Saturday morning to find our article on part of the front page and on the whole second page with eight full sized colored pictures! We would like to thank the Rapid City Journal for giving us this publicity.

Also, earlier this week, the Argus Leader, out of Sioux Falls, SD, published an article featuring a research group from South Dakota State University and the School of Mines and Technology. This research, which the UAV Team is part of, is being done to show that an autonomous helicopter could be used to monitor the condition of rural gravel roads. The research project aims to design a system capable of flying over a gravel road and taking pictures from a bird’s eye view. These pictures could be used to tell exactly what maintenance needs to be performed. The current research is investigating whether autonomous surveying for damaged roads could beeasier and more cost efficient for the DOT.

Click here to see the Rapid City Journal's article.

Click here to see the Argus Leader's article.

November 7, 2007

Testing on the Structure Entry and Reconnaissance Vehicle (SERV) has proven the concept behind the team’s dual-vehicle strategy. The SERV is a quad-rotor helicopter capable of entering a building through a small window (see Sub Vehicle page). Led by graduate student Jason Howe, the SERV team has demonstrated autonomous attitude and altitude control of the vehicle. Testing has been conducted which proves the controller on the SERV is capable of autonomously navigating the vehicle along walls and up stairs. Additional testing and simulation has proven the platform is capable of recovering from extreme disturbances in its surroundings – even up to a full 90 degree roll.

In conjunction with the SERV progress, the main vehicle team, along with a four member senior design team, has designed and prototyped a release mechanism for deploying the SERV from the undercarriage of the UAV helicopter. Flight testing of the prototype began November 6th, and by the end of the day November 7th, the team had accomplished multiple, successful deployments of the SERV. This milestone marks an important time in the team’s history by proving the elegance of the quad-rotor design which the team has promoted since its inception.

Make sure to check out all of the recorded media from these two events here. Video Page.

October 31, 2007

The Rapid City Journal has written an article about the South Dakota School of Mines CAMP program.

CAMP Article

July 29, 2007

After placing first overall last year, the SDSM&T UAV team marched onto Fort Benning this year with a reputation to uphold. On Monday, the 23rd of July, the team registered for the competition and received the schedule of events for the next four days. We also set up our equipment at the base and during this time, it was made clear to us that great things were expected of us by the other teams, spectators and the judges. Following many hours of preparation, the static events were completed with presentations on Tuesday. The team was quite satisfied with how things went and we were all set to dive straight into the dynamic events which we had spent so many hours over the last so many months preparing for.

Wednesday was practice day and it was best described as a roller coaster of a day. Ultimately things ended well and things moved to the dinner banquet where the results of static judging were announced. We received the award for best technical paper with a score of 100. It was the first perfect score awarded to a paper in the 17 year history of the competition. The judges couldn't say enough about it. In addition to this, we received honorable mentions for our presentation as well as for Innovation of design. This gave us second overall at the end of static judging leading into the dynamic events. As the team had already completed stage 1 last year, it was decided that we would focus our efforts into completing stage 2 this year and that was what we did. Using only 3 out of our 4 attempts, we successfully completed stage 2 by mid afternoon on thursday and event came to an end soon after because of weather. This allowed us to exercise the option to continue to face the challenge the following day and we decided to do this by attempting stage 3.

After four very valiant efforts, we ended inches away from completing stage 3. The final scores have not been released yet but an educated guess tells us that we probably finished second overall. Watch the IARC website for the scores which should be posted shortly.

July 31, 2006

The UAV team faced a large number of problems before and during the competition this year.  We crashed and totalled our primary helicopter two weeks before the competition.  We then worked hard to get the secondary helicopter up and running in time for the competition.  We then came to competition and worked on our presentation for tuesday's presentation.  During the presentation, our primary basestation computer crashed with the presentation on it, so we were forced to use our back up computer.  We also could not get the projector to work during the competition.  The next day we crashed our helicopter about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the banquet.  We went to the banquet to learn we got best t-shirt, best presentation and best paper.  We also go honorabe mention in best system.  We then spent the rest of the night rebuilding the helicopter and finally had it rebuild about 10 minutes before it was time to go compete in the dynamic portion of the competition.  Thoughout the day we fought a number of issues from engine tunning, communications problems and autopilot problems.  At the last moment we were finally able to pull everything together and complete stage 1 of the competition.  We got first overall in points and walked away with $2400.  Despite all of the problems the team was able to pull together and make it a great competition.  We have an amazing team this year

June 3, 2006

After just having sent in the design report of the 2006 IARC competition the UAV team tested their communications system to a range of 4330.06m from the base station. The helicopter was at 72m AGL with the base station antenna at 3m AGL. The flight was along a small valley floor with some trees. The teams next range test is to put the antenna on the 36 foot communications tower used at the 2005 IARC competition. During the flight day the team also flew stage 1.

May 15, 2006

The team has tested the helicopter to prove Stage 1 reliability and starting stage 2 testing. Currently, the team is working on the software to accomplish Stage 2 and the release mechanism for the SERV. The team is scheduled to be able to complete Stage 1 and attempt or show both Stage 2 and Stage 3 capabilities at the 2006 IARC competition.

March 5, 2006

On Sunday, March 5th, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team completed stage 1 multiple times to show reliability. This marks the first time the team has completed stage 1 since its start in 2003.

The flight day started with one problem when the antenna cable on the helicopter came loose on take off. The flight crew quickly fixed this problem and double checked all connections before taking off again. The helicopter was set to hover for a few minutes to check stability before being sent on the first stage 1 attempted. The helicopter successfully completed the stage 1 attempted and was landed for refueling. After refueling the helicopter was sent to fly stage 1 again to prove reliability. The helicopter again successfully completed stage 1. While leaving the helicopter hovering at its last waypoint the team decided to simulate the stage 2 control system and sent the helicopter fly to commands that the software for stage 2 would be sending. The helicopter successfully completed this task. With the gas tanks still full and the helicopter hovering at its last waypoint the team decided to send it to fly stage 1 once again this time taking on board video of the flight. Part way through the flight the software for capturing the video crashed and full on board video of the flight was not completed. The helicopter did complete the third stage 1 attempt successfully proving reliability.

Congratulations and celebration was in order after this accomplishment. In an email to the UAV team, Chief Engineer Simon Haumont said "I would like to congratulate everyone on this amazing accomplishment. Also, thank you all for your hard work and determination for making Stage 1 a success." Another email from UAV Team Manager, DJ Kjar stated "Congratulations to the UAV flight team (Mark, Jason, Brian, Simon, Josh, Craig and DJ) who did an excellent job of getting results early during the spring break. These hard working students sacrificed their vacation time to work on the UAV project."

January 26, 2006

On Thursday, January 26, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team presented their project to the Civil Air Patrol in Custer , SD. The team showed videos of our successes and failures along with a slide show describing the project.

The Civil Air Patrol members challenged the UAV team members with questions about UAV applications and vehicle configurations. UAV Sub Vehicle Leader, Jason Howe stated “Both the senior members and the cadets were excited about the project. They had great questions and ideas.”

UAV team manager, DJ Kjar said “The UAV team is looking for opportunities to do outreach to the community. The team would like to be able to do presentations like the one at the Civil Air Patrol once a month to area schools and organizations. It allows our members to practice their speech skills and also test their knowledge of the UAV. The Civil Air Patrol is hopefully just the start.” With the success of this event the UAV team is looking into contacting the Spearfish and Rapid City squadrons.

Story on CAMP webpage

July 31, 2005

The UAV team returned from competition on Sunday the 24th of July. They performed well at competition. The team did not receive awards but did have two honorable mentions in best air vehicle and best presentation.

The day of competition started on a foggy morning. SDSM&T were the first and only team ready to start at 7 am. Due to the fog the judges postponed the competition until the fog cleared. With the start of the competition only two teams tried to fly on the first round. All the other teams passed including SDSM&T. On round two it was determined that the SR-1B that the students had been working on had a faulty electrical system. There was a short that was causing the helicopter to turn off at random times. With the deadline for our first attempt getting closer the team decided to put aside the SR-1B and use the new helicopter that had just been delivered from Rotomotion. The second round was used to preflight the new helicopter. They had just minutes left at the end of the second round which they used to try starting the helicopter. They were not able to get it started in the time allowed and had to wait for the next round to start the helicopter. On the third round the helicopter once again would not start. With the help of some professional RC pilots they were able to determine that dirt had gotten into the gas tanks. This had caused the carburetor to clog. The team cleaned the tanks and carburetor and waited to use their last attempt of the competition. The team was able to start the helicopter but was not able to get it running correctly. One of the cylinders was not firing. With the end of the fourth round SDSM&T had lost any hope of flying in this year's competition.

As the team headed home, hope was rekindled as discussions of the coming year raged in the vehicles. The team had made some critical mistakes that will not be allowed to happen in the coming year. With a list of things to accomplish and a new insight into the competition the UAV team will rise from the ashes from this year's competition to accomplish great things.

Competition results can be found here:

November 12, 2004

DJ Kjar has been placed in charge of the Budget. All receipts have to be signed by him before you can get reimbursed. Since we are low on funds everyone should check with DJ before buying anything. This will insure that you get reimbursed.

May 27, 2004

Mark performed a series of manual flight tests to work out bugs in the control system of the Bergen.  Several bugs in the wireless link were worked out, and we were able to record flight data from a full flight session without even one glitch in the connection.  The flight data accuracy looks extraordinary!  You can download a video of the flight here.

May 26, 2004

Drew Wilkerson was able to pay us a visit today.  He has a tremendous amount of experience with military UAVs, both airborne and ground, and gladly gave us a treasure trove of invaluable advice.  He was most impressed with our work so far, and we hope we can impress him even further in the coming weeks.

May 5, 2004

Our DOD spokesman, Mr. Drew Wilkerson, will unfortunately not be able to attend the meeting on Thursday.  He will try to reschedule his visit for late May or early June.

April 30, 2004

The next team lead meeting has been rescheduled for 2:00 PM on May 5th.

The meeting with our Department of Defense supporters is set for Thursday, May 6th at 11:00 AM in Dr. Dolan's backyard.  Everyone is encouraged to attend.

The receiver is back from Rotomotion!  We can finally test control systems and begin autonomous test flights!

April 26, 2004

A late afternoon manual test flight of the Bergen Twin met with some trouble while attempting to take off for a second flight.  The helicopter lost the power to ascend, and the flight had to be aborted.  A burnt rubber smell coming from the craft may be from the clutch unit.

Despite this, the Dragonfly was successfully flown underneath the Bergen during the first test flight.  Although the downwash from the Bergen flying at an altitude of about 25' was more than enough to push the tiny four-bladed Dragonfly into the ground, it showed promise.  From higher altitudes, the Dragonfly will be able to drop well out of the range of the downwash.


Sept 2014

Competition Results: 1st in student division, 4th overall
read more

June 2014

We have a functional Hexcopter!

We have working computer vision code

Video of flight and CV test