CTU Student Looks to Help Community with Quadcopter Project

Project aims to assist local first responders in wildfire, search and rescue operations

CTU Engineering Degree Capstone ProjectWhen Colorado Technical University instructor Dr. John Santiago showed his engineering students videos of quadcopters in action, he hoped to spark some interest for students planning their capstone projects, a requirement for earning a master’s degree in engineering from the university. He certainly succeeded in capturing the interest of student Shahram Tabatabaei. Shahram decided to take on the design and construction of a quadcopter as the final task of his electrical engineering program.

“It looked big and complicated, but that’s the kind of thing that I like – I like a challenge,” Shahram stated during the presentation of his project to the engineering and IT faculty at CTU. Taking computer courses as part of his program really helped, since the project encompassed a wide array of tasks and required extensive knowledge of design, engineering, electronics, and information technology. Innovative thinking can be seen throughout the quadcopter, as Shahram designed his own unique frame for the quadcopter and then proceeded to print out the necessary parts on his 3D printer at home.

3D printing is being utilized throughout CTU across IT, design, and engineering disciplines, as students see its potential for cheap, customizable parts and replacement parts. A notable example includes CTU student Roger Henry, who printed a shell cover for Cleopatra the rescue tortoise and became an internet celebrity in the process. In this case, Shahram cited the advantages of incorporating 3D printing as customizable, inexpensive, repairable, and recyclable – broken or excess parts printed in ABS plastic can be ground into pellets, which become the material to print other parts.

“I have printed parts for my dishwasher that I previously paid $20 or more for, that I 3D printed for 50 cents,” Shahram explained during his presentation. He mentioned being able to repair broken parts on the spot with a little bit of superglue during rough landings while he was testing his quadcopter. Printing a frame rather than purchasing parts or trying to produce custom molds for parts took the anxiety out of the field testing, knowing that having something break during a hard landing could be easily fixed, at a minimal cost, by printing out another part.

While Shahram drew crowds at local parks in Colorado Springs testing his very cool looking quadcopter, the objective of his project transcends mere recreation. His stated objective is “to help firefighters and first responders in their missions” by integrating a quadcopter into wildfire reconnaissance or search and rescue operations over Colorado’s rough terrains. “When it comes to rescue – when something happens, you need to have as many tools as you can.” Drones are becoming more integrated into emergency operations, and more affordable as a tool.

Shahram went into great detail about why unmanned drones such as his quadcopter offer a viable solution for first responders. His stated reasons include lower costs and more information without putting anyone in harm’s way. Manned helicopters and airplanes are costly and there is greater risk involved. An unmanned drone can hover for extended periods – hours, or even days – more than one can be launched simultaneously, and the drones can hover over “dead zones” in burn areas or remote mountain areas, providing Internet or radio signals to allow first responders the ability to communicate. Quadcopters can also operate in the extremely windy conditions that are common to wildfires.

Although his current quadcopter model is extremely impressive, Shahram envisions improvements that will make it even more useful. Planned additions include GPS positioning, mission planning, altitude control, an improved remote, and first-person view (FPV) flight capability.

“I would like to take it down to the local fire station to get feedback from first responders,” mentioned Shahram during the conclusion of his presentation. Shahram felt that they would have just the right real-world feedback to help optimize his quadcopter to get it ready for action.