Text by Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona
College of Engineering
A micro air vehicle flown by the team from the University of Arizona won first place in an indoor flight competition during a major international MAV conference.
The UA Micro Air Vehicle Club's micro aircraft, which specialized in autonomous vertical takeoffs and horizontal flight, received the top award during the International Micro Air Vehicle Conference and Flight Competition, or IMAV 2012, in the category of "Indoor Autonomy - Fixed Wing."
The IMAV 2012 competition was in Braunschweig, Germany, in July.
The flying competition was part of the conference that included 150 participants representing 15 countries. Attendees from accross the world shared ideas for improving MAV flight, a unique situation for the students to participate in, said Sergey Shkarayev, UA aerospace and mechanical engineering professor and UA MAV advisor.
Micro air vehicles are small flying robots that can have the size and weight of small birds. Careful examination of bird and insect flight has greatly influenced modern designs of these small, man-made flying machines.
In fact, one of the presentations given by Shkarayev during the conference portion of IMAV 2012 describes the reasons for engineers to pursue biologically inspired flapping-wing micro air vehicle designs.
Shkarayev said this year's UA MAV group had advisors from other engineering departments, such as UA electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Jonathan Sprinkle, who gave students direction in the autonomous flying area of micro air vehicle design. "This was a deliberate effort to help the club do its best at the competition," Shkarayev said.
Jordan Odle, a UA aerospace engineering senior, credits the depth of the UA research in the MAV field as a significant factor in the group's success.
"This year, the team was able to leverage this research background and incorporate those lessons learned into the current micro air vehicle, while still looking forward and integrating some of the most technologically advanced production methods available," Odle said. "The result was a reliable airframe, with excellent flying characteristics for a vehicle with its diverse flight profile… this is something few university level teams can achieve, and gave us a clear advantage at the IMAV 2012 competition."
UA aerospace engineering graduate and UA MAV member Aaron Petras credits support from Tucson-based Rincon Research Corp. for the success of the trip. After an onsite presentation by the club to approximately 60 of the company's engineers, the company provided constructive input on the project and decided to back the UA MAV group's travel to Germany. "It was great that they took an interest in our project after we gave our presentation," Petras said. "I don't know that we would have been able to send a team to attend the conference without their assistance."
Sponsors of the UA MAV team's participation in Germany were the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Rincon Research, The eNose Company, the UA College of Engineering and the UA aerospace and mechanical engineering department.
The IMAV 2012 conference was organized by the German Institute of Navigation. IMAV conferences traditionally include an indoor and outdoor flight competition, as well as three days of micro air vehicle technical presentations that demonstrate innovations in navigation, control and autonomous flying technologies.
Shkarayev said that even though the UA MAV team won first place in a competitive international micro air vehicle event, he's expecting greater things from the team in next year's IMAV competition.
He said: "Overall, I will expect more than we were able to show this year in all of the categories."
College of Engineering