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Assessment of a Multi-University Unmanned Systems Capstone Design Project

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Capstone Design and Innovations in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.222.1 - 23.222.17

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Paper Authors


George York U.S. Air Force Academy

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George York, PhD, PE, became an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the United States Air Force Academy, CO, in 2005. He received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in 1999. His research interests include the cooperative control of intelligent systems, digital signal processing, and embedded computer systems. He is a Senior Member IEEE.

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Erlind George Royer Academy Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, USAF Academy, CO

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Dr. Royer served for 30 years in the United States Air Force, 11 1/2 years of which was spent at the USAF Academy. His last USAF assignment was as the Dean of the Faculty, USAF Academy, in the grade of Brigadier General. After seven years in industry, Dr. Royer returned to the Academy as a Distinguished Visiting Professor for five years. He then joined the Academy Center for UAS Research and currently supports the Center as a part-time consultant.

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Daniel Harold Harold


Daniel D. Jensen U.S. Air Force Academy

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Dr. Dan Jensen is a Professor of Engineering Mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy where he has been since 1997. He received his B.S. (Mechanical Engineering), M.S. (Applied Mechanics) and Ph.D. (Aerospace Engineering Science) from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has worked for Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, NASA, University of the Pacific, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and MSC Software Corp. His research includes design of Micro Air Vehicles, development of innovative design methodologies and enhancement of engineering education. Dr Jensen has authored approximately 100 papers and has been awarded over $3 million of research grants.

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Assessment of a Multi-University Unmanned Systems Capstone Design Project This paper discusses the assessment methods and results for a senior capstone design projectinvolving teams from three geographically separated universities, as well as the challenges thestudents faced and lessons learned. The project was titled the Joint Cooperative UnmannedSystems Initiative (JCUSI). JCUSI is unique in that the customer funding the project will mostlikely employee the students involved either as engineers implementing future unmannedsystems or as operators of unmanned systems. Consequently he was involved in defining thelearning outcomes of the project, which were added to our normal pedagogical outcomes for thiscapstone engineering design course.1. Scenario JCUSI is an undergraduate research project composed of teams from three universities toexplore a cooperative control scenario involving multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs),unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). Each teamdesigned the UxVs their respective institution specialized in. In addition, one team designed theoverarching ground control center. These unmanned systems (UxVs) had to cooperatively andautonomously protect a harbor from intruding boats. The scenario begins with two UAVssearching the harbor entrance attempting to identify and track any incoming boats. To simplifythe task, the intruding boat has a unique signature (bright red color). Upon detecting theintruding boat, the UAV notifies the ground station, which in turn notifies a USV to intercept theintruding boats. The other UAV continues to search for other possible intruding boats, while thefirst UAV continually tracks the detected intruding boat and sends the location information to theUSV. When the USV intercepts the intruding boat they notify the ground station and UAVs, andthen escort the boat to the shore. At this point, the UxVs must identify and track another target, ahuman departing the boat with a unique signature (bright red color, but smaller size). The UAVsloiter above the boat waiting to detect and track the human target leaving the boat. When thehuman target is identified, the UAVs notify the ground station, which in turn notifies the UGVsto intercept the human. The scenario ends when the UGVs intercept the intruder.2. Outcomes The agreed desired outcomes of the JCUSI project were to develop young engineers who: (1) Understand the current capabilities and limitations of unmanned system technology (2) Can identify operational opportunities for unmanned systems (3) Are able to develop and articulate unmanned system requirements (4) Are able to function as part of a multi-institute, geographically dispersed team. While outcomes 1 and 2 are unmanned systems focused, the challenges presented byoutcome 3 (requirements) and outcome 4 (geographically separated teams) may be of interest tomany system engineering projects. In addition to these outcomes, we also assessed our regular capstone design course outcomes,which assess the students’ performance following a defined rubric after each major projectmilestone. Our project milestones are the system requirements review (SRR), the preliminarydesign review (PDR), the critical design review (CDR), two system status reviews (SSR), thesystem verification review (SVR), and the final demonstration.3. Assessment Methods Three formal assessment activities were defined before the project started: (1) A 38 question survey taken by the cadets at the beginning and the end of their participation in the project to measure their perceptions of their knowledge, skills, and attitudes as they pertain to the four project learning outcomes. (2) The normal course assessment tools used in our two-semester capstone engineering design course (grades from program reviews) (3) The project mentors’ qualitative evaluation of the achievements of the teams. In addition, other assessment opportunities became available during the course. (1) The students had an opportunity to visit an unmanned systems operational site mid-way through the project, so we conducted a survey to access the impact of meeting the real customers in the operational environment as they related to the four project learning outcomes. (2) The students from the three universities had an opportunity to meet in person mid-way through the project, and we conducted a survey to access the impact of this meeting on the four project learning outcomes. (3) Two reflective papers by the students of their experience with the course. The analysis and results of the above assessment will be presented in the final paper.Overall, the results were very positive. Many of challenges we will discuss are related tooutcome 3 (defining requirements) and outcome 4 (working on geographically separated teamsfrom different institutions).4. Engineering Challenges / Technical Results The students had several engineering challenges. First, they had to design the top-levelcooperative control architecture between three sets of unmanned systems as well as thecommunication infrastructure and protocols to support the architecture. The requirement was forthe system to work fully autonomously; however, human intervention was allowed forconfirmation of targets and overriding actions taken autonomously by the UxVs. Secondly, thesensor processing and sensor fusion of the data from the three different platforms to allowtracking the targets while propagating the proper error ellipse proved to be very difficult.Finally, the communication architecture had to support the bandwidth of multiple video streamsat distances up to a mile range and ensure all the ground stations, UAVs, USVs, and UGVsmaintained the same “situational awareness” (or same view of all the targets and platforms) in atimely manner. Each team had to tackle the low level challenges unique for their platform. For example, theUAV team had to design or integrate the following subsystems: (1) an onboard computer system;(2) an onboard sensor system; (3) an autopilot system; (4) a ground control station; (5) acommunication system between the two UAVs, the UAV ground station, and the overall groundcontrol center; (6) image recognition software to find/track boat and human targets (7) a backupmanual radio control flight control system; and (8) onboard power for propulsion and thepayload. The final paper will discuss the details of the overall results of the final demonstration. Eachteam was able to get their UxVs to work, but not all the technical requirements were met, withthe biggest issue being the final integration of the overall command center with all the UxVs.5. Lessons Learned The students were able to experience the management challenges of a large engineeringproject while attempting to get three geographically separated teams to work together.Coordination difficulties were exacerbated by two different time zones, different work schedules,different terminology and philosophies on how to solve the problem. Additionally, each teamfaced their own internal challenges with their individual multi-disciplinary teams. In this paper,we will discuss the lessons learned by both the students and the faculty while addressing thesechallenges, and compare them to results reported in similar papers in the list of references.References: 1. 2011-2012 Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs, Engineering Accreditation Commission, ABET. 2. P. Mellodge and D. Folz, “A Multi-University, Interdisciplinary Senior Design Project in Engineering,” Proceedings of the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. 3. J.L. Ellingson, C.S. Greene, S.E. Morgan, and M.A R. Silvestre, “An International Multiyear Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Project,” Proceedings of the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. 4. R.O Hovsapian, C. Shik, J. Ordonez, J. Vargas, and N.G. Costa, “Enhancing Senior Capstone Design Course through International and Multidisciplinary Projects,” Proceedings of the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. 5. G. York and D. Pack, “Multi-Disciplinary Capstone Design Project: An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for Vehicle Tracking,” Proceedings of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.

York, G., & Royer, E. G., & Harold, D., & Jensen, D. D. (2013, June), Assessment of a Multi-University Unmanned Systems Capstone Design Project Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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