UMD Students Design Rover To Deliver Payloads Where Troops Find Dangerous

The University’s entry into the Air Force Research Lab Challenge could help our nation's troops.

DULUTH, Minn.- What has four wheels, two propellers, two cameras, and can climb walls? The newest rover designed by UMD students to deploy cameras or sensors in places hostile to a human operator. 

“When you think, ‘oh I need to get something high up in the air,’ you think a plane or a helicopter or something like that — you don’t really think a little car with some propellers on it,” said Corey Knutson. 

The University’s entry into the Air Force Research Lab Challenge has student’s excited not only about winning a third year, but for how their invention could help our nation’s troops. 

The objective: design a remote controlled, autonomous robot that could climb walls and deploy sensors or cameras in hard to reach or potentially dangerous places

“So our solution to that was to design a four wheel drive rover that could drive on the ground to the building location,” said Knutson, the Main Programming Lead and Main Driver. 

“It has two propellers on it so it uses those to prop itself up against the wall and it uses the force from those propellers to hold it against the wall and it can drive up the building,” he said. 

It also includes two cameras — one underneath to check if the terrain is a good place to drop the payload, and one on top for navigation. 

“Basically the operator is able to look at our main controller which is a Herelink and it has a display screen on the Herelink that you can see what the bot sees,” said Lucas Eckardt, who designed the First Person View Camera, and was the lead on the Deployment Systems controls. 

“I designed a gimbal system for that that allows you to rotate the camera 180 degrees left right and upwards,” he said. 

Over the past year, students studying electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and engineering physics joined forces to create a machine both versatile and efficient. 

“It’s a rover and that’s really beneficial because you don’t waste a lot of energy getting to your target destination,” Knutson said. “Whereas if you had a quad copter or an airplane you have to spend a lot of energy to stay up in the air while you’re kind of traveling to your deployment location.”

It’s their drive and originality educators say, which has allowed UMD to win the competition twice — the only program in the country to  do so. 

“I see a lot of them when they come in as a freshman and then I see them actually leading me and designing these products,” ‘said Dr. Emmanuel Enemuoh, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “So I’m very very proud of the outcome. I didn’t expect it to this level.” 

According to the students, subject matter experts told them they could see their rover being used by agencies like the Air Force in the future. 

“’Cause normally a lot of these guys would go in the field to deploy these same payloads that we can now do remotely,” Eckardt said. “So for surveillance, it really can help protect our troops and that’s pretty cool  that I had a part in it.” 

Their engineering, having the potential to save lives one day. “It’s really impactful for sure and it really makes you think this isn’t just a school project it has real life consequences and benefits of course,” said Knutson. 

“Yeah it’s really a taste of the real world while you’re in school,” he said. 

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