Technology to the rescue

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As part of their final year project, four BE (Bachelors in Engineering) Mechanical Engineering students of Goa College of Engineering built an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for aiding in firefighting and surveillance. NT KURIOCITY finds out more

ANNA FERNANDES | NT KURIOCITY

The sky is the limit, for these engineering students. As part of their final-year project, students from Goa College of Engineering namely, Sunay Dharwadkar, Risha Hegde, Agnesh Gadhi and Shahzeb Shaikh, built an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

UAVs or drones are, today, one of the most exciting areas of innovation. And thus the students decided to design and manufacture a drone to aid in surveillance and firefighting that would, in turn, provide support in rescue missions.

The drone is equipped with a Pixhawk flight controller which acts as the brain of the drone. “The flight controller sends the signals to the motors through the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controller), thus spinning the motors,” explains Dharwadkar.

A drop mechanism is also provided to dispatch a fire extinguishing ball to douse fires. The drone can extinguish small scale A, B and C types of fires.

“Further, the drone has the capability of return home, maintain a constant altitude, and can be controlled by a computer server from a point, he says, adding that the aerial surveillance will help in providing an overview of the ground situation thus allowing firefighters to take appropriate action.

But working on a final year project in the midst of a pandemic proved to be quite challenging, shares Dharwadkar, as the team had lofty plans in store. “We wanted to make our drone capable of identifying fire hotspots by using image processing, but we had to drop the idea after completing nearly 50 per cent of it since we could not purchase some parts due to the lockdown.”

Another feature that they wanted to equip the drone with was obstacle detection with a lidar system (method for measuring distances by illuminating the target with laser light and measuring the reflection with a sensor). This was also affected due to the inability to purchase parts due to the pandemic.

The current prototype of the drone is 680 millimetres in width and weighs about three kilograms. It has firefighting capabilities, can carry an extra payload of 3.5 kilograms such as medical first aid kits and so on, and has a flight time of about 43 minutes. “Due to the Pixhawk flight controller, we can calibrate it for altitude hold, return to home, control it via computer and also communicate with multiple drones through a swapping program,” he adds.

The team credits the success of their project to the support of their professors, friends and families – and especially their project guide, Jagannath Hirkude; head of department, Vinay Shirodkar; and principal, MS Krupashankar. “We had a successful flight testing and are proud of our achievement,” they say.

What makes the drone built by the students unique is that it was less costly as compared to UAVs available in the market. “Further, since we are using an open-source flight controller we can program it for all purposes thus making it flexible,” he says adding that the total cost of designing and fabricating the prototype came to a total of `79,000.

From learning how to build a UAV and a surveillance system to programming parts and using it for various applications, for the students, the biggest takeaway from this experience was the thrill of being able to utilise technology in innovative ways. And with their sights firmly on the future, as they pursue higher education or seek out jobs, they are all set to soar. As for the prototype, the students look forward to making the public aware of its capabilities so that they can take it further.

SPECIAL FEATURES

The drone is equipped with a Pixhawk flight controller which acts as the brain of the drone. The flight controller sends the signals to the motors through the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controller), thus spinning the motors.

Using a drop mechanism, the drone is able to dispatch a fire extinguishing ball to douse fires, and can extinguish small scale A, B and C types of fires.

The drone has the capability to return home, maintain a constant altitude, and can be controlled by a computer server from a point.

The aerial surveillance helps in providing an overview of the ground situation.