UND engineering team wins international UAS design competition

By Patrick C. Miller | December 18, 2014

A team of University of North Dakota engineering students recently won a major international competition with a 78-pound scratch-built unmanned aerial system (UAS).

Eighteen teams of student engineers competed for the world championship at the annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers student design competition finals in Montreal as part of the 2014 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exhibition.

The UND team included Christopher Borseth, Thief River Falls, Minnesota; Aric Glaser and Alex Heyd, East Grand Forks, Minnesota; Scott McDaniel, Darlington, Wisconsin; and Daniel Smith, Grand Forks, North Dakota. All are juniors in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the UND College of Engineering and Mines.

In addition to designing a UAS that carried the heaviest payload, the challenge was also to build and fly an original aircraft, navigate it through a high gate and low gate, complete a targeted payload drop on a simulated forest fire, and return to the start through a hoop.

“We figured the best option in this competition would be a quadcopter, and we built ours with eight motors—two on the end of each arm—driving counter-rotating propellers,” Borseth said. “Before the world final, we added another arm with a motor on each end, for a total of 10 motors.”

A large, fully loaded UAS can be difficult to design and fly, but Dustin McNally, a UND mechanical engineering faculty member and the team’s advisor, said the students successfully maximized the payload while completing the course and maneuvers satisfactorily.

“The group was so successful because they had a strong team that worked well together, had good ideas, and, most importantly, put in the time to continually make improvements and test their prototype,” said McNally, “The students learned how to go through the engineering design steps to evaluate and optimize their design instead of jumping to conclusions and hoping that an idea will work,” he said.

At the international and district level, McNally noted that there was strong competition from other prototypes.  

“UND came through as a clear winner at each level of the competition as the team had put so much quality effort into the right areas,” he said.