Project prepares students to lead industry innovation

By Alyssa Patrick, College of Engineering and Architecture

UAV-170PULLMAN, Wash. – Assistant professor Gaurav Ameta packed technology trends, hands-on learning and industry-applicable skills into one semester-long class project.

Rather than just read about the mechanics of flying devices, students in his mechanical engineering design course designed and built 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could land and take off from water.

UAV-water-350The U.S. Congress recently mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration allow UAVs weighing less than 55 pounds into open airspace by 2015. UAVs have many applications – from weather monitoring to agricultural to military – and the industry is expected to double in size in the next decade.

The UAVs have potential energy-saving and distance applications, since the vehicle could stop and float on water during a longer journey and recharge using a solar panel.

Students also designed the UAVs to be modular so that more fans, larger fans, more powerful motors or batteries could be switched in as needed.

Components had to be 3D printed, giving students experience developing original design concepts, ordering parts and applying their computer-assisted design models to the 3D printer in the student manufacturing shop.

UAV-land-350The class also collaborated with ME 401, a mechatronics class that will use the prototypes for developing control hardware. Working with another class simulated how different industries often work together to develop a product.

“The course teaches the design process from start to finish, but it also teaches students to communicate and be responsible members of a team,” Ameta said. “Both are very important to be successful in industry.”