In conjunction with the Edwards Air Force Base, a collaborative team from Fresno State’s engineering department has been working on an aerial laser-targeting project called “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle,” also known as UAV, for the past three years.

Students create Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Fresno State students worked with Edwards Air Force to
develop an “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.”
Photo courtesy of Gregory Kriehn

In conjunction with the Edwards Air Force Base, a collaborative team from Fresno State’s engineering department has been working on an aerial laser-targeting project called “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle,” also known as UAV, for the past three years.

Computer engineering professor Dr. Gregory Kreihn said mechanical, electrical and computer engineering students are building a UAV platform that will allow a plane to track a ground target using a Global Positioning System (GPS) and sensors on board.

“The plane ideally can fly by itself autonomously and then as it [is] smoothing around it gathers in all kinds of sensor information to point at a camera with a laser to a target on the ground,” Kreihn said.

In August of 2011, The UAV project team produced a poster presentation and published a 20-page publication at the Association for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle International, also known as AUVSI, in Denver City, Texas.

“It is very exciting because it’s kind of the most prestigious conference in the world for unmanned systems,” Kreihn said.

Kreihn added that the team was accepted based on its first submission in the AUVSI conference, which accepts 10 percent of their submission.

Three years ago, Kreihn and his colleagues, Dr. Nagy N. Bengiamin, an electrical engineering professor, Dr. Gemunu Happawana and Dr. Walter Mizuno, mechanical engineering professors, were asked to write a formal proposal to Edwards Air Force Base for funding the project.

Kreihn explaines that Edwards Air Force Base wants to prepare young engineers to be familiar with unmanned or autonomous technology before it recruits them to work at their base.

“Besides, from the university perspective, this allows us to be able to train our students to work on some new and exciting things,” Kreihn said.

Kreihn said right now the system they built has been able to track a target autonomously.

“As a plane flies around we have a data link that transfers information to the ground station,” Kreihn explained. “With Google Maps we can see where the plane is flying in real time.”

Kreihn added that the system has been able to detect earth’s magnetic field and with sensors built on board, it is able to detect the orientation of the plane and read how fast the plane is moving. They get the information about the altitude of the plane through an altimiter set up on board.

When the information is gathered, the team puts the system through a complex mathematic procedure on a customized motherboard that they built. This process gives information to a camera on board that tells the unmanned plane which ground target to point.

“All of that happens in real time as the plane continues to fly around,” Kreihn said.

Kreihn added that the research team is now focusing on a full autonomy system in which the plane will be capable of taking off and landing by itself.

“We want it to be able to do everything,” Kreihn said. “Take off, land, go to three different locations and perform those activities before it comes back.”

Undergraduate and graduate engineering students are working on the project, and Kreihn said the number of students who are working on the project fluctuates from year to year.

“Students that worked with the research have gotten top-notch jobs,” Kreihn said.

Aside from gaining emplyment with Edwards Air Force Base, students got jobs at Intel, a defense contractor in Ohio, an autonomous farming equipment company and a former student almost got a job at Google.

Kreihn said that all the employers of these students were very impressed with the UAV project that they were involved in during their study at Fresno State.

“They are going above and beyond their normal engineering education and employers are increasingly looking for students who are self-motivated and proactive with their education,” Kreihn said.

Nicholas Yingst, project manager and a computer engineering student, said the UAV project has given him a reason to stay at the engineering department when he was ready to leave.

“This is a good way to get a hands-on experience and is definitely interesting,” Yingst said.

Yingst added he has been gaining more technical skills in the project than he has ever experienced in his regular classes.

Paul Bennett, a mechanical engineering student, said he has been working on inspecting, analyzing and modifying the various airframes for the UAV project.

“I always feel like I learn a lot more in this project than I have in my classes,” Bennett said. “In classes, we are always told to ignore certain effects to make the problem a little bit more feasible and in this sort of environment every variable counts.”

Bennett added that throughout the project he has learned how to work with a variety of people.

Kreihn said the Fresno State’s UAV project team is preparing for an annual unmanned system student competition in summer 2012.

Kreihn added that his team’s long-term vision is to expand the UAV system of this research to other kinds of technology aside from airplanes.

Edwards Air Force Base has been the primary financial contributor to the project, but the team is still working to get more alternative funding.