Parent Magazine

Don’t Call Them Drones

BU student team builds unmanned aerial vehicles

Story and video by Taylor Toole

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made headlines in December 2013 when he announced that the internet retailer plans to use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), by 2015 to deliver packages within a 10-mile radius of its distribution centers.

Tantalizing images of whirring robotic machines with yellow buckets transporting goods to one’s doorstep aside, many challenges remain—not least of which is approval of its flight plans by the Federal Aviation Administration—before Amazon can get a green light.

Closer to home, an enthusiastic group of BU students is working hard to build UAVs and advance understanding about the field. The UAV Team divided into groups in fall 2013 and senior members worked with newcomers to design and build unmanned quadcopters. After months of brainstorming, designing, and building, some of the 30 members gathered at a local park at the end of the 2013 fall semester for a fly session, where they launched the unmanned four-rotor robotics.

“Seeing them in flight changes everything,” says John Aleman (ENG’14), the team’s vice president. Even the crashes, he says, are a learning opportunity.

With a year of research and design behind them, team members are now turning their attention to designing and building aircraft they want to enter in two major competitions. The first, the International Aerial Robotics Competition, is in summer 2014. In the second, the Wildlife Conservation UAV Challenge, more than 100 teams will design, build, and fly UAVs that could be used to aid in anti-poaching efforts. The finals for that competition will take place in November 2014 in South Africa.

Aleman says members make a point of not referring to their unmanned robotics as drones, because of the negative image associated with the word. Instead, the group is focused on promoting the myriad ways UAVs can be used for nonviolent purposes.

While current members of the UAV Team are all engineering majors, the organization is open to anyone with an interest in the field, and Aleman says he’d love to see students from other areas join. The team meets weekly, working out of the College of Engineering’s Intelligent Mechatronics Lab at 110 Cummington Mall, and receives most of its funding from the University. Aleman says the group would like to partner with aerospace companies that could provide additional sponsorship.

Visit the AV Team website to learn more.

A version of this story previously appeared in BU Today.

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