UMR helicopter design team navigates to first-place win

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On May 3, 2007

A multidisciplinary team of students from the University of Missouri-Rolla recently beat out Georgia Tech and the University of Alabama-Huntsville to capture a first-place finish with their small unmanned helicopter. The national competition was sponsored by the Redstone Chapter of the American Helicopter Society.

Dubbed “Project SAVER,” UMR’s helicopter is capable of vertical takeoff and landing and was designed to assist first responders in emergency situations. 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.

“In the competition, we had to fly around a building and look into the windows with the camera,” says Tim Assel of Cameron, Mo., a graduate student in aerospace engineering.

The UMR team qualified for the national competition last year, when their design was selected as a winning project. As a result, the team received $5,000 to build the vehicle. The students 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 was required to design and build a small vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV) that can safely operate in and around buildings. The 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.

“Our ultimate goal of forming and nurturing student teams such as the First Responder Team is to inspire, engage and educate students in order to produce well-prepared graduates who quickly adapt to technical innovations and are more competitive and productive throughout their careers,” says team advisor Dr. Fathi Finaish, professor and associate chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UMR. “The rapidly changing technical world and the demands of future workforce requirements entails that future engineers must maintain an up-to-date knowledge and possess unique skills in order for them to be able to function in a high-tech global world.”

The vehicle was 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
  • Peter Cross of Ash Grove, Mo., who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from UMR in 2005 and 2006, respectively
  • Ryanne Dolan of Lake St. Louis, a senior in computer science and computer engineering
  • Paul Drews of Saint Charles, Mo., a senior in computer and electrical engineering
  • Paul Leonard of Seattle, Wash., who received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UMR in 2006
  • Trey Lewellen of O’Fallon, a junior in electrical and computer engineering
  • Nick Lessley of Forsyth, Mo., a senior in mechanical 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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Posted by

On May 3, 2007. Posted in News