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Students Developing Drone to Fly Unmanned Search and Rescue Missions

The NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium will fund research by a student team in the University of Miami College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The team, mentored by Dr. Ines Basalo, assistant professor of practice in the department, will develop and build an autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that will fly search and rescue missions. The title of the project is, “Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Two-Part Extended Search and Rescue Mission.”

Historically, search and rescue operations have been conducted by coordinated, specialized, human teams. However, the extensive training and significant equipment needed to accomplish such missions have rendered rescue efforts cost-inefficient and manpower-inefficient.

Recently, developments have been made to incorporate UAVs – also known as drones – into search and rescue missions, thus reducing the manpower necessary to find victims. Despite the push towards self-sufficient machines, current drones still require human assistance in the form of visually verifying that the detected point is indeed the proper target.

The research project aims to create a drone that will be able to independently identify a human in need, land and deliver a small payload, turn around and return a sample from the patient to a doctor. The project will follow the guidelines for the UAV Medical Express Challenge, and the team hopes to enter the competition in 2017.

The senior design group is composed of aerospace and mechanical engineering students Robert Foster, Alexandra Damley-Strnad, Byron Gopaul and Bradford Cozby. Foster took the lead to obtain the grant from NASA and states, “I had the opportunity to work an internship at [NASA’s] Marshall Space Flight Center, where I met three separate engineers who specialize in creating UAVs that perform similar tasks. We [senior design group] plan to keep in contact with them as often as possible, while maintaining an appropriate level of independence.”

The student team also will build and design a device, integrated into the UAV, which is capable of holding medical supplies and remotely dropping them into a designated target area. The UAV and its components will be analyzed and tested to optimize delivery time while also minimizing cost. It will also have a camera used to identify targets, and will be able to take off and land autonomously. To remove the need for manual identification of victims, the UAV will use color or thermal detection.