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Drones for Project-Based Learning (PBL) Capstone Design

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Capstone Pedgagogy

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Stephen Andrew Wilkerson P.E. York College of Pennsylvania

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Stephen Wilkerson ( received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1990 in Mechanical Engineering. His Thesis and initial work was on underwater explosion bubble dynamics and ship and submarine whipping. After graduation he took a position with the US Army where he has been ever since. For the first decade with the Army he worked on notable programs to include the M829A1 and A2 that were first of a kind composite saboted munition. His travels have taken him to Los Alamos where he worked on modeling the transient dynamic attributes of Kinetic Energy munitions during initial launch. Afterwards he was selected for the exchange scientist program and spent a summer working for DASA Aerospace in Wedel, Germany 1993. His initial research also made a major contribution to the M1A1 barrel reshape initiative that began in 1995. Shortly afterwards he was selected for a 1 year appointment to the United States Military Academy West Point where he taught Mathematics. Following these accomplishments he worked on the SADARM fire and forget projectile that was finally used in the second gulf war.
Since that time, circa 2002, his studies have focused on unmanned systems both air and ground. His team deployed a bomb finding robot named the LynchBot to Iraq late in 2004 and then again in 2006 deployed about a dozen more improved LynchBots to Iraq. His team also assisted in the deployment of 84 TACMAV systems in 2005. Around that time he volunteered as a science advisor and worked at the Rapid Equipping Force during the summer of 2005 where he was exposed to a number of unmanned systems technologies. His initial group composed of about 6 S&T grew to nearly 30 between 2003 and 2010 as he transitioned from a Branch head to an acting Division Chief. In 2010-2012 he again was selected to teach Mathematics at the United States Military Academy West Point. Upon returning to ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate from West Point he has continued his research on unmanned systems under ARL's Campaign for Maneuver as the Associate Director of Special Programs. Throughout his career he has continued to teach at a variety of colleges and universities. For the last 4 years he has been a part time instructor and collaborator with researchers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County ( He is currently an Assistant Professor at York College PA.

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Stephen Andrew Gadsden University of Guelph

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Andrew completed his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and Management (Business) at McMaster University in 2006. In 2011, he completed his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at McMaster in the area of estimation theory with applications to mechatronics and aerospace systems. Andrew worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Mechatronics and Hybrid Technology (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada). He also worked as a Project Manager in the pharmaceutical industry (Apotex Inc.) for about three years. Before joining the University of Guelph in 2016, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Andrew worked with a number of colleagues in NASA, the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). He is an elected Fellow of ASME, is a Senior Member of IEEE, and is a Professional Engineer of Ontario. He is also an Associate Editor for the International Journal of Robotics and Automation and is a reviewer for a number of ASME and IEEE journals and international conferences. Andrew earned the 2019/2020 University Research Excellence Award for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences based on his research activities at the University of Guelph. He is also a 2019 SPIE Rising Researcher award winner based on his work in intelligent estimation theory, and a 2018 Ontario Early Researcher award (ERA) winner based on his work in intelligent condition monitoring strategies. He was also awarded the 2019 University of Guelph Faculty Association (UGFA) Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

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Elyse Hill

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I am a PhD student focusing on Intelligent Systems at the University of Guelph under my advisor, Dr. Andrew Gadsden. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) where I received a BS in Mechanical Engineering. My undergraduate experience introduced me to education and educational research, which drew me to teaching undergraduates in design courses. Several of my research interests include: control systems, estimation theory, pedagogy, diversity in higher education, and concept inventories.

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In this paper, we examine the learning objectives of building drone aircraft for a variety of uses. We detail some of the design and learning challenges that the students take on and the results of the student’s efforts. This course is formulated for project-based learning (PBL) and self-regulated learning (SRL). In particular, the program is a Capstone Design 2-semester course that additionally has an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) design and build criteria as a requirement. Completion of this project is a requirement for graduation, and students usually take the capstone design course in their senior year. For this particular capstone design, most of the topics covered are outside of the student’s comfort zone and require research and decision making to arrive at a final project. We examine student motivations and difficulties. Students were allowed to set their own goals and timelines within the constraints and requirements of the project. In this paper we detail the requirements for this past year and the paths the students took. We examine the team interactions and final outcome and how this impacts their long term thinking and approach. The process of how we evaluate their learning activities as well as how they rate one another’s efforts is also detailed.

Wilkerson, S. A., & Gadsden, S. A., & Hill, E. (2020, June), Drones for Project-Based Learning (PBL) Capstone Design Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34483

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