Oct 092011
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

With a whir, four propellers lifted the design project of Matt Parker, Gerad Bottorff and Chris Robbiano off a table in Engineering B106 Saturday morning. The vehicle swung left and right in midair as it leveled out and hovered above the table for a few moments.

Robbiano used a controller to lower it back to the table, while Parker and Bottorff looked on.

“At the moment, it’s working like it’s supposed to work,” said Parker, a senior electrical engineering major and leader of the project, an effort by the three to design and build a quadcopter, or a kind of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used by military and industry for surveillance work.

Earlier in the day, the team hadn’t had as much luck. A malfunction of the gyroscope, a device that helps keep the vehicle level, caused the copter to slip sideways and beat one of the propellers against the table.

“We’ve had some snags in getting it to float,” Parker said. “The gyroscope is not consistent so it’s sometimes slow on responding and leveling.”

Later in the day, the team had the copter in working order again and it took off and landed several times for curious parents and students attending the engineering department’s fall Engineering Exploration Day.

The event, which happens once a semester, allows high school students and their families to spend a day learning about the engineering department through tours of campus, sessions about the different sections of the department and demonstrations by current students about the projects they complete for their capstone in the major.

“Engineering can be a daunting major,” said Kathleen Baumgardner, one of the coordinators of the exploration event, and a director in the College of Engineering. “Prospective students want to ask what it’s like.”

The event benefits the current students of the engineering department since students sometimes turn these finished projects into patents, companies or future jobs, Baumgardner said.

“One of the things engineering employers are looking for is people that can communicate,” Baumgardner said.

Ten different student groups presented their projects this year, including other independent projects like another unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and video games to help doctors rehabilitate patients.

Engineering students also often use their senior design project in competitions. For instance, CSU has submitted an entry every year since 1997 to the national concrete canoe competition, which challenges engineers to build a canoe out of concrete that will float and can be raced against other teams. CSU’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers presented their canoe plan at Engineering Day.

For their part, Parker, Bottorff and Robbiano spent two hours on Saturday morning answering questions about the CSU engineering program and their project.

“It’s fun to show off what we’ve done to kids and parents,” Bottorff said. “We get good questions from the parents, and can tell the kids are thinking ‘Oh man, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.’”

The quadcopter is still in progress, but Parker hopes to finish it before next semester. All together the team spends about 18 hours per week working on it. They meet once a week to work together, but spend about 50 percent of their time working independently.

Parker has spent the most time so far, about 10 hours a week, since his portion, the hardware, needed to be completed first. The others will put more time in now, as Bottorff will be working on software and Robbiano will be working on wireless communication.

As for the snags and other bumps in the road, they’re working on them.

“It’s nice being able to do our own project. To design it. To get results,” Parker said, then pointed to the patch of the table turned black by the earlier incident and joked, “To be angry with it when it’s broken.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

  • CSU teams of the National Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge Competitions

  • Games for Rehabilitation
  • LARVA (unmanned aerial vehicle)
  • Quadcopter
  • Saving Animal Friends with Electronics (SAFE)
  • Speaker Amplifier
  • Society of American Engineers (SAE) Racecar
  • EcoCar2 Electric Car

More details about these and other design projects can be found at www.engr.colostate.edu.

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