Last spring as a group of mechanical and aerospace engineering students were putting the pieces in place for their senior design project, the team’s advisor and assistant professor in the department, Onur Bilgen, suggested they apply for a NASA University Student Research Challenge (USRC) grant. Bilgen felt confident their multi-mode hybrid drone delivery system (MMHDDS) project could be a strong contender, and he was right. The team, which includes Paul Wang, Nolan Angelia, and Muhammet Ali Gungor, is the recipient of one of only a handful of grants awarded by NASA that challenge students to propose new aeronautics ideas/concepts relevant to NASA aeronautics.
The award-winning project seeks to engineer a more efficient drone system by addressing current industry challenges related to long distance travel and accurate vertical movement. According to the students’ research, potential benefits of drone delivery are constrained by physical and management expenses, time-consuming long-distance delivery, and environmental issues from the high traffic of transport vehicles. MMHDDS employs a collaborative system of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a fixed-wing plane, and a multirotor UAV.
While NASA’s USRC provides students from accredited U.S. colleges or universities with grants for their projects, students must also raise a portion of the funds through crowdfunding platforms. The MMHDDS team has established a crowdfunding campaign through the Rutgers Foundation to raise half of the funds needed to further develop their project. The Rutgers team estimates the total cost of the project to be about $38,000, which will cover materials, two-month summer salary for three undergraduate researchers, travel, and indirect costs.
“The team and I are extremely grateful to have this opportunity and the support of NASA USRC, and it's an honor to be one of the projects selected,” says Wang, who served as principal investigator on the project.
Wang and his senior design team hope that the grant will not just allow them to fully develop their senior design project by supplementing testing and purchasing supplies and parts, but that it could even help push their idea towards commercialization.
For his part, Bilgen advised the team in grant writing and organization, carefully revised their draft, and created a budget for them. He also coordinated internal procedures and obtained approvals from the Rutgers Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED).
“Senior design is the culmination of all our students learn over the course of time education at Rutgers and it’s always exciting to see the breadth of projects presented each year,” says Bilgen. “I’m proud of the effort the MMHDDS team has put forth on this project, from their initial concept to now executing a finished design.”
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Project Description: The 21st century has brought with it an increasing demand for fast and precise delivery systems in E-commerce. However, potential benefits are constrained by physical and management expenses, time-consuming long-distance delivery, and environmental issues from the high traffic of transport vehicles. To compensate for these issues, the industry has been looking to drone delivery as a resolution to these factors. Even though a precise drone delivery can successfully lower the financial budget and resolve the management issues by reducing labor cost and fuel consumption, the battery life limitation and acoustic emission of drones have become the biggest challenges in the successful implementation of long-distance delivery systems. Accordingly, a solution which extends the drone delivery distance is the primary goal and our design, a multi-mode hybrid delivery system, is the answer. Our Multi-Mode Hybrid Drone Delivery System (MMHDDS) is a delivery infrastructure prototype that employs a collaborative system of two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a fixed-wing plane and a multirotor UAV. This unique, two-vehicle approach allows the system to take advantage of the strengths of two different vehicle types, as fixed-wing aircraft are efficient at traveling long distances, and multi-rotors are capable of more accurate vertical movements. In an end-to-end operation, this multi-vehicle system operates by flying the fixed-wing plane with the multi-rotor UAV attached to a docking port. When the combined system in flight is sufficiently close to a target location, the multi-rotor UAV detaches from the docking port of the fixed-wing plane and covers the final distance to the drop-off location. After delivery, it flies back and docks to the fixed-wing aircraft, while in flight, to continue the journey. This system provides an effective alternative to the existing package delivery infrastructure, and is scalable, economic, and efficient.