Taking flight, then taking it apart

The Oktokopter — a remote-​​controlled, eight-​​bladed heli­copter that can hover in one place or travel great dis­tances — can be used for a range of tasks, from taking photos to per­forming mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance. But there’s a problem with this com­mer­cially avail­able, assembly-​​required small copter: It’s dif­fi­cult to transport.

So a team of North­eastern elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering student-​​researchers fixed it for a senior cap­stone project, which placed third in this year’s ECE Cap­stone Design Competition.

After a year of work, the stu­dents pre­sented a proof-​​of-​​concept for an easy-​​to-​​transport Oktokopter that includes arms that quickly snap in and out of place and that can be stored in a durable case. The project was called RAMROD, short for Ruggedized Autonomous Mod­ular Recon­nais­sance Oktokopter Design.

The stu­dents — Lauren Clausen, Daniel Dumanis, Tyler Fenton, James Hardy and Stephen Schmitt — also devel­oped new soft­ware than can run on an Android phone, making it even easier to con­trol the high-​​tech copter. Elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering pro­fessor Bahram Shafai served as the team’s fac­ulty adviser.

“We made the device mod­ular so that it could pack up into a box and could move around easily,” Hardy said. “When you’re in the field, you can have this put together in five minutes.”

Elec­tronic com­po­nents con­nected by a USB plug enable the arms to simply snap into place — no welding or sol­dering is required — and the device’s new soft­ware inte­grates GPS tech­nology, making it easy to dis­patch an Oktokopter to a par­tic­ular loca­tion. The device can detect and avoid obsta­cles such as walls or build­ings, though fur­ther devel­op­ment is required before the device is fully autonomous.

“In a mil­i­tary set­ting, we would want this to have full automa­tion, where a sol­dier would simply have to plot a push-​​pin on a map and push the start button,” Dumanis said. “The Okto would ide­ally have the ability to take off, image the area of interest, fly back and land safely — all while avoiding obsta­cles such as walls and trees.”



Related Faculty: Bahram Shafai

Related Departments:Electrical & Computer Engineering