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UWP engineering students develop uses for quadcopters

Quadcopters are a growing point of interest for students involved in the Society of Physics Students at UW–Platteville.

A subgroup of students in the organization work directly with the quadcopters and fly them in competitions against other university-organized teams. About 30 students are engaged in the Society of Physics. About 10 of those students work are involved with the quadcopter group.

The quadcopter is a lightweight flying device that can be used for examining areas that would otherwise be hard to reach for a human. Many quadcopters are equipped with tools such as a GPS and automatically leveling cameras.

“We have mounted GoPro cameras on them so that we can take aerial photos,” said Duane Foust, Society of Physics Students advisor. “It is important for us to stress the importance of science and technology to our students. Quadcopters give the kind of hands on application and real world experience that students need.”

“I got involved with Society of Physics students to meet more students who were engineering physics majors and to participate in social and community events, said Melissa Weller, a senior engineering physics major from Wittenberg. “As a sophomore, I got involved in quadcopter with the hopes of it becoming a collegiate level aerial robotics competition. So far our group has competed in St. Louis, Mo., as well as at Milwaukee School of Engineering against other universities from across the country.”

Although the quadcopters are commercially available to consumers, the group builds many of the components for the quadcopters that they fly. The quadcopters are made of a foam base with tape used as a coating for protection and strength. 3-D printing has opened the door for students to design and manufacture parts for the aircraft. In competitive settings, there is little time to replace parts on the quadcopter. Having extra parts available that the students have made helps save them time in contests.

Quadcopters are not only fun to use in flying competitions; they can be used purposefully for real world applications.

Four students are currently working on a project for Alliant Energy that would utilize quadcopters to survey the inside of large boilers used to produce energy for consumers.

Weller, Taylor Kessler of Viroqua, Jonathon Tegeler of Dyersville, Iowa, and Jerry Sigwarth of Holy Cross, Iowa, are engaged in the project with Alliant Energy. The four students are all majoring in the field of engineering physics.

“Our goal is to be able to fly our quadcopter inside the boilers at Alliant Energy and return video footage that can be used to assess the condition of the boiler interior,” said Sigwarth, who is also president of the quadcopter group. “The largest obstacles that we have had to overcome are the lack of light in the boilers, video transmission out of a steel boiler, and launching the quadcopter from an elevated position.”

“We hope to accomplish the tasks of inspecting various facilities, both indoor and outdoor, with our quadcopter to save both time and money for Alliant Energy,” said Tegeler. “The professors in engineering physics department at UW-Platteville provided us with many hands on experiences like this that employers love to see.”

“This project would have not been possible without the $1,600 PACCE grant that we received,” said Sigwarth. “The PACCE program is a great way to help get students involved in the community while giving them an opportunity to apply the topics they learn in the classroom to a real life problem.”

“Often times, quadcopters are seen in two ways by the public, either as a hobby for those into RC helicopters, or a threat to security and privacy,” said Weller. “Through this project we have taken a quadcopter and used it to solve a real world problem at Alliant Energy. Hopefully this project will be the start of using more quadcopters for specialized, real world applications as well as changing people’s minds as to how they work and their usefulness in society. Other applications for quadcopters and drones could be to assist in search and rescue missions or to help farmers in do reviews of their crops or livestock from their home.”