UMR helicopter design team to compete in nationals April 16-17

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On April 12, 2007

A multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Missouri-Rolla have designed a small unmanned vehicle capable of vertical takeoff and landing that can assist first responders in emergency situations. The team will take its helicopter, dubbed “Project SAVER,” to Huntsville, Ala., where they will compete against other university teams in a national competition sponsored by the American Helicopter Society.

The vehicle is a semi-autonomous VTOL emergency responder — a coaxial, contra-rotating blade helicopter featuring a side-mounted camera. The aircraft’s semi-autonomous control system and unique sensor suite allows it to be operated around buildings and outside of the line of sight of the ground station operator.

The UMR team qualified for the national competition last April, when their design was selected as a winning project. As a result, the team received $5,000 to build the vehicle. The students have spent the past year building the helicopter and securing additional funding from the Missouri Space Grant Program, which is sponsored by NASA; the Society of Flight Test Engineers; the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at UMR; and the UMR Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.

“Each student team is required to design and build a small vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV) that can safely operate in and around buildings,” says team advisor Dr. Fathi Finaish, professor and associate chair of aerospace engineering at UMR. “This vehicle is intended to quickly conduct both preliminary building surveys and extended spot ground surveillance in geo-constrained spaces. These emerging capabilities will allow firemen, police and other first responders to more efficiently complete their missions and bring VTOL technology closer to home.”

The vehicle will be evaluated based on total system weight, time to complete mission, number of object hits and total system cost.

Members of the First Responder Design Team are:

  • Tim Assel of Cameron, Mo., a graduate student in aerospace engineering
  • Ryanne Dolan of Lake St. Louis, a senior in computer science and computer engineering

  • Paul Drews of Saint Charles, Mo., a senior ir computer and electrical engineering
  • Nick Lessley of Forsyth, Mo., a senior in mechanical engineering
  • Trey Lewellen of O’Fallon, a junior in electrical and computer engineering
  • Brian Magaha Saint Peters, Mo., a junior in aerospace engineering
  • Paul Robinette of Maryland Heights, Mo., a senior in computer engineering and physics.


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On April 12, 2007. Posted in News