Streaming live video taken from a remotely controlled camera on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) earned EECS seniors Matt Lee, Dan Lierz, and Jerome Younger the Rummer Design Award. The wireless video system, developed in conjunction with KU Aerospace Engineering (AE) researchers, highlights the breadth of research and the real-world applications of projects completed in the Senior Design Laboratory II (EECS 502). EECS 502 students decide the winner of the Rummer Award, which recognizes outstanding workmanship and innovation.
“It was really awesome. We thought we had a good project, but it [Rummer] validated our hard work,” said Younger. “It was one of my best experiences at KU. You apply what you are learning and are able to build something.”
The EECS students wanted to focus on telemetry, collecting data at a remote source and wirelessly transmitting it to a ground station. They found an ideal challenge in overhauling the tracking capabilities of the Aerospace Engineering UAV. The AE Flight Systems team has been invited to participate in the U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s Video Tracking Challenge this fall. The challenge requires a UAV to track a specific truck in various environments, which requires a dramatic enhancement in functionality for the current UAV, said AE Assistant Professor Shahriar Keshmiri.
Establishing two-way wireless communication allows streaming video, current GPS readings, and other data to be sent and camera adjustments to be received during flights. The EECS students also developed a mechanical gimbal system that allows the camera to rotate and orient itself independently of changes in flight. They designed a system to receive manual camera signals and position the camera accordingly. The students incorporated tracking software to lock on to a target.
“Working in a multidisciplinary environment is not easy by any means, but this year the students were very passionate and very engaged and that's why they succeeded,” said Keshmiri. “I do believe the key for success for our department is to engage EECS faculty and students in our research projects.”
Understanding the concept and technical components of the UAV provided a steep learning curve for the EECS students. Additionally, no one in the group had much programming experience. Lee and Lierz praised Younger for taking on the daunting coding and meeting every deadline. The two-way communication link presented a major challenge as did extending the video signal's range. The students developed a custom 18-dBi helical antenna, which is pictured, to enable communication up to a mile. They encountered a lengthy delay when the antenna would not work with the matching network but were able to eventually iron out the issues.
“Of the many lessons learned, definitely the resounding lesson was that careful planning ensures proper execution. While our design may not be perfect, it was thoroughly thought out before purchasing parts,” said Lee, the team leader. “I had a blast working on this design project. Our team came together very well to complete each of our individual tasks, and I couldn't be more thankful to be a part of this group.”
The final system includes wireless video transmission, manual joystick control, and attitude compensation for the aircraft. The HD video camera is mounted to a 2-axis gimbal that is powered by two servo motors. The video signal is transmitted with a center frequency of 2.4 GHz using frequency hopping with a bandwidth of 20 MHz, and the data signal also uses frequency hopping and is centered at 900 MHz. Currently, the camera is controlled remotely by a crew member on the ground, but in the next phase, the target will be marked and then controlled automatically.
In previous courses, parts were provided along with documentation on how to complete the laboratories. But in the capstone course, the students created the procedures, chose the parts, and documented what they doing along the way. It gave Lierz a much greater appreciation for project management.
“It was a great feeling to finally complete the project and accomplish your customer’s vision. The senior design process is great because it allows students to interact with a customer and create something that is of use to them,” said Lierz.