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UAS Curriculum for Students Using an Active Learning Approach

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Aerospace Hot Topic: Unmanned Aerial Systems

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Michael C. Hatfield University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Michael C. Hatfield is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Associate Director for Science & Education, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University; an M.S. in electrical engineering from California State University Fresno, and a Ph.D. in Electrical/Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Catherine F. Cahill Alaska Center for UAS Integration, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

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Dr. Catherine F. Cahill serves as the Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration – RDT&E (ACUASI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and the CEO of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex. For more than 30 years Cathy has conducted research on atmospheric aerosols and their impacts on visibility, global climate, and human health including the size and composition of particulate matter entering the Arctic from Asia and the sources and potential health impacts on U.S. forces of atmospheric aerosols in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, Cathy has collaborated with the UAF UAS program and worked on developing unmanned aircraft-based sensors for determining the concentration, composition, and spatial distribution of atmospheric aerosols. In August 2015, Cathy completed a nineteen-month Congressional Fellowship with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and returned to UAF to join ACUASI’s leadership team.

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John Monahan University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Upward Bound

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John Monahan is currently the Director of University of Alaska Fairbanks, Upward Bound and Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundations NSF EPSCoR Track 3 "Modern Blanket Toss" project investigating the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in K12 classrooms.

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Student-Led Learning in UAS Curriculum

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) offer an exciting opportunity to teach students about basic principles of aerospace engineering and instill valuable systems engineering design experience. The widespread popularity of UAS, the explosion of affordable and capable systems, and recent advances in policy by the FAA have enabled a permissive climate where UAS may be effectively used by students as both a valuable tool to conduct research and as systems engineering design project in its own right. UAS focused projects and hands-on courses provide stimulating and relevant learning opportunities many students are seeking today.

UNIVERSITY has broadly embraced the concept of active learning, supporting initiatives to more effectively engage students, such as “flipped” classrooms where students take a more active role and responsibility for their education. In engineering, the university has enthusiastically begun infusing UAS and aerospace materials into the curriculum, just last year initiating an aerospace engineering minor, developing numerous aerospace courses and research opportunities for seniors/graduate students, and generously supporting the new student chapter of AIAA (which has also spawned a number of senior design course projects). One such course analyzes the effects of UAS subsystem design approaches and system trades impacting its overall performance and operational viability.

UAS Design is a new multidisciplinary course intended to give students valuable experience in the field of UAS and aerospace engineering. Students are expected to: 1) conduct a systems analysis of UAS to include the air vehicle platform and sensors, ground station, and supporting infrastructure; 2) comprehend the complex interaction and interdependencies of UAS subsystems; 3) understand mission operational planning considerations, such as flight planning and data requirements planning; and 4) demonstrate the ability to clearly and concisely communicate a UAS mission analysis in both written and oral form. In addition, due to student feedback from its inaugural offering, this second offering of the course now includes the design, construction, and flight of an actual UAS in support of a selected remote sensing mission.

While this 1-semester course is offered primarily as a graduate class, its overwhelming popularity has resulted in it being offered to seniors both at UNIVERSITY and (new) via videolink to our sister campus at UNIVERSITY (with a roughly 2:1 undergraduate ratio). In addition to a limited number of ‘traditional’ lectures, students take an active role in their own education through a variety of means, including: 1) individual student-led discussion topics of various UAS subsystems and aerospace fundamentals; 2) 2-person teams analyze an approved UAS (personal, commercial, or government) and provide a series of mini class briefings and papers detailing the design choices for subsystems and their effects on the overall UAS; and 3) small teams of 3-5 students design, build, and fly a UAS (quadcopter or hexacopter) to accomplish a small remote-sensing mission and discuss results.

This paper will describe the effort, lessons learned, and applications to future courses and research. It will also outline efforts to push similar curriculum and UAS opportunities down to local HS/MS students.

Hatfield, M. C., & Cahill, C. F., & Monahan, J. (2017, June), UAS Curriculum for Students Using an Active Learning Approach Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29050

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