Flying High: How Automatic Control and Systems Engineering students took to the skies as part of an International Drone Competition

Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering students from the University of Sheffield were flying high as they took part in the annual UAS Challenge, organised by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

UAS Group Photo

The competition, now in its fourth year, is a year-long project where teams are challenged to design, build and operate an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that could be used in a humanitarian aid mission – completing a series of tasks such as way-point navigation (following a route towards a specific mark), location search and accurate delivery of an aid package.

Twenty-one teams took part in the 2018 Challenge, with students coming from across the UK as well as from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

Project HEX, from the University of Sheffield, was pleased to be competing amongst them and not for the first time.

As Andreas Mertzios, Project HEX team captain explains:

“This is the third time Project HEX has taken part in the UAS Challenge and, as the name suggests, it has been a challenge, but that’s the most rewarding part! Our aircraft was a hexacopter - hence the team name - and our aircraft consisted mainly of carbon fibre and 3D-printed parts."

He added:

“3D printing was chosen as our main manufacturing process as it provides huge flexibility on geometries of the parts and rapid prototyping. This became particularly important as we had a major crash whilst testing two weeks before competition.The design and manufacturing process meant we were able to rebuild as well as undertake further flight tests in time for the final fly-off event.”

The ‘fly-off’ took place over two days in June at the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre in Wales and was sponsored by Qinetiq and GKN Aerospace. Alongside the operating tasks, the commercial viability of each project was also tested with a Dragons’ Den style pitch to a panel of judges.

Peter Finegold, Head of Education Policy at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“Taking part in the UAS challenge provides students with an excellent opportunity to bridge the gap between education and industry. Students are involved in an engineering project which brings theoretical knowledge to life and encourages authentic work experiences such as working in teams, to deadlines and solving real problems as they arise."

After two days of intense competition, Team Hedef from Istanbul Technical University in Turkey were crowned grand champions followed by the University of Southampton in the runner up position. Although Team Project HEX didn’t come away with an award, the team gained invaluable experience that will support their development as engineers.

Being involved in the project whilst keeping up with coursework can really test your ability to work under pressure. We’ve all gained so much from taking part and I have personally enjoyed every single moment - even the drawbacks and when things don’t go as planned as they make sure you’re always learning.

Andreas Mertzios, Project HEX team captain

Congratulations Team Project HEX!

About this year’s hexacopter:

• Consisted mainly of carbon fibre and 3D-printed parts

• 3D printing offered huge flexibility on geometries of the parts and rapid prototyping

• Carbon fibre sheets were CNC-ed by the team to best fit with the 3D printed parts

• The ‘control’ sub-team developed a unique code for the two missions using matlab and python

• Hardware included a Pixhawk flight controller, raspberry pi and camera

• Linking the aircraft and the ground station was achieved using Direct Wi-Fi

• Included a Flight Termination System that stopped all motors whilst quickly deploying a parachute using a CO2 cannister

Members of the Project HEX team at competition including Andreas Mertzios, John Gifford, Demetrios Loizides, Stephanos Hadjistephanou, Alexander Murray, Quincy Agyapong, Jamie Berlofsky, Alexander Johnson and Jack Orton.

*This story originally featured in MechEng News you can view it here.