UAS Team members building the competition aircraft
The Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Team was founded four years ago in a small dorm room in Warwick River Hall by PCSE majors Austin Suhler and Jake Tarren who were soon after joined by another computer engineering student, Nigel Armstrong. Since then the team has grown significantly. They have moved into a dedicated lab in Luter Hall, have added 20 members, and for three years in a row, they have competed successfully in the international Student UAS competition hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
Austin Suhler retrieving the practice drone model after flight
What is the UAS Team about?
The team’s vision probably says it best: “To inspire and educate future leaders in Unmanned Aerial Systems.”
The UAS team is a group of students who are interested in all aspects of unmanned aircrafts – technical as well as non-technical. As a team, they have organized themselves in several subgroups each focusing on important components of the overall project. The Payload Team, for example, deals with the hardware that goes inside the drone, while the Flight Team makes sure that the aircraft is still aerodynamic and operational after equipment is added. This team also flies the aircraft. Other subteams include the Software Team, which writes the code for the drone to fly autonomously, and the Cyber Security Team, which secures any networks and wireless links that are used during competition. The team also includes students who are interested in marketing and fundraising, which both are quite important for the long-term sustainability of the team.
In order to do well at the competitions, the students meet regularly throughout the year to learn about the technologies and work on the various components of their unmanned system. During the spring semester, as soon as the weather allows it, the team spends most Saturdays at a flying field in Suffolk, Virginia to practice flying and to perform systems tests. These ‘field trips’ are not only a great opportunity to learn how to fly drones, but also to hang out with other team members. In fact, most team members will agree that going to the flight field is one of the highlights of being in the club.
The UAS Team in the 2016 competition
Every June the UAS team competes in the AUVSI Student UAS competition, which is held at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
According to the official rule book, the competition “is designed to foster interest in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), stimulate interest in UAS technologies and careers, and to engage students in a challenging UAS mission. The competition requires students to design, integrate, report on, and demonstrate a UAS capable of autonomous flight and navigation, remote sensing via onboard payload sensors, and execution of a specific set of tasks. […] The competition has three major elements: the Technical Design Paper, the Flight Readiness Review Presentation, and the Mission Demonstration. The paper details a team’s UAS design. The presentation details the team’s testing and preparedness for the competition. The demonstration simulates a mission in which the UAS and team is evaluated. The mission consists of autonomous flight, obstacle avoidance, object detection, and air delivery.”
What are the benefits from being on the UAS team?
Apart from having fun and learning tons of relevant knowledge, being a team member can have ‘direct consequences’ when it comes to jobs and internships. Many employers, also outside the UAS field, are thoroughly impressed to see students being engaged in a club like this, learning about tools and technologies in one of the hottest R&D fields around, and solving real-world engineering challenges.
Several students have received internships or job offers because of their involvement with the team. Take for example Davis Catherman, the team captain. Due to his experience with the UAS team, he was offered an internship at NASA where he joined a team of researchers in the UAS sector. Another great example is Sadie Rynestad, who was recruited as an intern by DroniCar, a NASA spin-off in York County, which develops unmanned solar airship systems.
How can you join the team?
The team is always accepting new members. If you are interested in any aspect of UASs, contact Davis Catherman at email@example.com. Also, you can always stop by and take a peak in the UAS lab in Luter 242 to see what the team is up to!