Update on: Student drone project for NASA

Dec. 20, 2021

Students continue work on their delivery drone for NASA

The group of Spartan Engineers who devised an innovative idea for NASA -- electric drones that  “catch a ride” on public buses -- continues to push forward toward their deadline next year.

Yuchen Wang and Woongkul Lee and (back) Kindred Griffis, Rohan Singh, Ryan Koschay, Ross Davis, and Gavin Gardner are advancing their NASA drone project.
(Front) Yuchen Wang and Woongkul Lee and (back) Kindred Griffis, Rohan Singh, Ryan Koschay, Ross Davis, and Gavin Gardner are advancing the drone they call Squab1.

The students are led by Woongkul (Matt) Lee, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who discovered the NASA research opportunity in September 2020. Yuchen Wang is team captain. Gavin Gardner is drone team lead.

The student team conducted extensive research this summer, even though they weren’t able to meet in person. By September, they had ordered all the major drone components and sensors and began construction.

The NASA drone prototype is called Squab1.
The NASA drone prototype is called Squab1.

The team quickly continued their work, aided by five new members who joined the effort during fall semester. The new team members are Ross Davis, Malachi Keener, Rhett Pimentel, Neil Potdukhe, and Dorian Smalley.

As work progressed, the team became aware of complications – like communication issues between various parts of the drone. That included the method of transmission between the drone and latching dock. To properly activate the latching system, the team decided to emit specific infrared optical signals from the drone to an attached sensor.

“This method prevents false triggering and omits the need for a physical communication link between the drone and dock,” said Kindrid Griffis, who leads the latching and charging team.

“Nobody has done anything quite like this before, which makes it 10 times harder,” noted Gavin Gardner, drone team lead. “We are finding out that we’re pioneers in this quickly evolving industry.”

Team captain is Yuchen Wang.
Team captain is Yuchen Wang, who has been involved with the project from its beginning.

By selecting such a unique design, the team quickly determined they needed solutions for the construction roadblocks they were encountering. Proprietary mounts and cases, designed by Davis, were assembled with use of a 3D printer for critical components of the drone, such as the IRLock landing camera, flight controller, Herelink antennas, and GPS.

“By having a strong and efficient team, we are able to make remarkable progress while innovating to the highest level possible. I am excited for what the rest of the year will bring with this extraordinary team,” Gardner added.

The team is aimed at completing the assembly and testing of their first drone, named Squab1, and their latching prototype systems by the end of January 2022. Development of the full-scale heavy payload prototype – which they call Hermes – will begin after the completion of Squab1.

The team is in need of help to complete their project. Anyone interested in supporting their innovative efforts can visit their crowdfunding link at: https://gofund.me/bd7cd69c.

Written by Kee-Ri Burkitt, student writer for the MSU College of Engineering.