Monday, November 6, 2023

2023 SOAR Into STEM Fall Session 4: Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles

By Carmelo Turdo
SOAR Into STEM Spring Session 4 was held at Wings of Hope on Saturday. This week's theme was Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), especially in their application to humanitarian aviation service. The students were introduced to commercial uses for UAVs, designed their own landing pads and flew camera-equipped quadcopters through an obstacle course using an app. Leading the final regular session in this series was Robert Powell, Education Coordinator for Wings of Hope, with help from a host of volunteer mentors.

The concept of UAVs, commonly referred to as drones, was discussed from its most basic level to practical uses around the world. One U.S. company developing UAVs for use in humanitarian roles is Zipline. They produce autonomous UAVs primarily for delivery of medical supplies in North America, Africa and Asia. The autonomous flight technology employed by Zipline is advancing the state of the art for operations even in the highly regulated U.S. airspace environment. 


A special guest speaker, Dr. Srikanth Gururajan, St. Louis University Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering, captured the attention of the students with his presentation on the UAV projects under development at the university's Unmanned Aerial Systems laboratory. The program's goal is to improve aviation safety through testing engineering applications using UAVs, artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies. In the future, UAVs (and possibly crewed aircraft) will be able to update their own mission profiles in flight, fly in swarms controlled by single operators and change their shape to navigate through obstructions without becoming unstable. These and other applications are currently under development by undergraduate and graduate students pursuing Aerospace Engineering degrees.

Student teams learned to operate the Tello app-based, camera-equipped quadcopters used demonstrate the flight characteristics of most small UAVs. After the students created their helipads and once communication with the UAV was established, a buzzing swarm took to the air. After a little practice, most of the students were landing the quadcopters on their pads and maneuvering through the hoops of an obstacle course.

Following the drone obstacle course exercise, the students met with their mentors to review the day's activities and the concepts covered in the four-week SOAR Into STEM Fall Sessions. 

Fall Session 4 concludes the formal SOAR Into STEM Program, though there is more in store for this class. Next Saturday, a career fair is scheduled and Young Eagle Flights will be provided by EAA Chapter 1675The Aero Experience thanks everyone involved with the SOAR Into STEM Program, and we will continue to support this and other STEM programs throughout the coming year.

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