Drexel University hosts ASME UAV competition

Student engineers compete with lighter than air UAVs at Drexel University.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers held its final Student Professional Development Conference of 2014 this past weekend in Philadelphia at Drexel University. Previous SPDCs of 2014 were held at Clemson, San Luis Obispo, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Texas Tech University, and Instituto Politecnico Nacional in Mexico City.

Old Guard Technical Poster and Oral Presentation competitions were held, along with contests for Technical Web Pages and the Student Design Competition. This year’s Student Design Competition was titled Lighter than Air UAV, and focused on the teams building unmanned aerial vehicles to perform a series of tasks. 

Drones will be used for a variety of reasons in the coming decades, and the problem statement this year was meant to simulate a UAV observing a forest fire. The Forest Service could use information gathered from a drone and use the drone to move payloads to different locations during disaster relief efforts.

The UAVs were required in the Problem Statement to be lighter than air, and several teams built blimps while others build quad, hex or octocopters. The vehicles were required to pass through two gates of varying heights, drop a payload, and return to base inside a three hundred second time window. Extra points were given for finishing early and carrying additional weight.

As the last Student Design Competition of the 2014 season this event was much busier than the two previous competitions that I have attended. Eighteen teams were registered to compete and most fielded a vehicle at the competition venue. Three teams used a blimp configuration and the rest built a copter of some kind.

Only two teams, Baker College of Flint and Germanna Community College, completed the course requirements in the allotted time. Germanna won first place for the competition and both teams now have the option to attend the International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition (IMECE) in Montreal in November 2014.

Student design competitions are excellent methods for young engineers to gain experience with real world problems. Students are given time constraints and a list of requirements to complete a project and compete against other schools. This model mimics the real world experience that every college is striving to give their students. The added benefit of some spectacular crashes and a lively crowd definitely added to my enjoyment of watching the competition.