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Multi-Disciplinary Capstone Design Project: An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for Vehicle Tracking

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Capstone Design Projects in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1087.1 - 22.1087.11



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Paper Authors


George York U.S. Air Force Academy

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George York, Ph.D., P.E., 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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Daniel J. Pack U.S. Air Force Academy

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Director of Academy Cetner for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

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Multi-Disciplinary Capstone: An Autonomous Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for Vehicle Tracking in the Presence of RF Interference George York and Daniel Pack Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering United States Air Force Academy, CO, 80840 Figure 1 Mission Scenario.All engineering cadets at the US Air Force Academy are required to complete a year-long,culminating capstone engineering design course. In addition to teaching cadets the designprocess of real life engineering projects, this course is designed to provide cadets withopportunities to exercise their skills and knowledge obtained throughout their rigorousengineering programs. For the past several years we have found Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAVs) and the growing number of associated applications to be well suited for capstone designprojects. Past example UAV projects include the use of autonomous UAVs to search and detectsimulated airborne chemicals for hazardous materials (HAZMAT) emergency teams, and aproject to map the spread of pine beetles along with the resulting damage to Ponderosa pineforest. This paper discusses a recent UAV project with the goal of informing a remote substationof an approaching vehicle using an autonomous UAV. The goal of the UAV system is to searchfor a vehicle, track it, and communicate to a ground station the status of the vehicle. The UAVmust do this in the presence of RF interference. Figure 1 shows an overview of the final projectdemonstration scenario. A human on the ground detects a designated vehicle and relays theinformation to the ground control station, where the UAV is launched to an estimated searcharea. The UAV searches for the vehicle, detects it, and transmits its status (such as expectedarrival time) to a nearby remote ground substation as the vehicle approaches.The design team was made up of one cadet majoring in Systems Engineering, one cadet majoringin Computer Engineering, and five other cadets majoring in Electrical Engineering. The projectwas sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD) and culminated with a capabilitiesdemonstration at a DoD test range. Our cadets found having a real customer highlymotivational. In order to accomplish the project, the team had to design or integrate thefollowing subsystems: (1) an onboard computer system that makes autonomous control, sensing,and communication decisions; (2) an autopilot system; (3) a ground station capable ofmonitoring the UAV mission; (4) a communication system between the UAV and the groundstation and the remote substation; (5) a special antenna system to avoid the RF interferencegenerated by the vehicle (6) an onboard sensor (camera) system; (7) image recognition softwareto find/track vehicle (8) a backup manual RC control system; and (9) an onboard power supplysystem. Figure 2 Picture of UAV in Flight Figure 3 Ground Station DisplayFigure 2 shows a photo of the UAV during one of the flight experiments. Figure 3 shows theground station display of the UAV flight trajectories during the experiment. The circular orbit onthe top left corner shows the staging area of the UAV, the parallel paths on the right representsearch paths of the UAV over the road to be searched, and the left bottom circular orbit showsthe takeoff and landing trajectories of the UAV.The project was successful. In this paper we present the overall engineering process, the resultingsystem, flight experimental results, and lessons learned by both cadets and faculty.

York, G., & Pack, D. J. (2011, June), Multi-Disciplinary Capstone Design Project: An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for Vehicle Tracking Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18526

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