Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research is an alternative option for undergraduate students to earn technical elective credits and an easy way to gain research experience. If the student later decides to move on to higher education, this experience is a great way to get an early understanding of what research is all about. 

Undergraduate Research Credits

Students who meet the requirements (see below) are encouraged to take Undergraduate Research credits (20-AEEM-5035) as part of their Technical Elective sequence for independent research work done in collaboration with an Aerospace faculty member. For information regarding possible research topics, look at the list of research facilities, look at faculty profiles, or speak to any of the Aerospace faculty members.

Past Undergraduate Research Examples

  • Brandon Kunkel
  • Dr. Kelly Cohen
  • Dr. Manish Kumar

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a versatile platform that is breaking out as a disruptive technology. One of the many civilian applications for UAVs is to automate land monitoring and surveying. Land surveying is typically performed by teams of two to four surveyors, and current surveying techniques leave room for improvement. Using a swarm of 5 collaborating UAV’s to automate the land surveying process will save surveyors’ time and money, as well as reducing potential risks to equipment and personnel. Optimizing the flight path for a UAV to survey an area of land can be done using a variety of methods. This paper investigates using genetic algorithm based three-dimensional path planning of a surveying UAV, given topographical elevation data, a prescribed area of operations as well as additional constraints such as no fly zones and other air traffic/FAA restrictions. A genetic algorithm traveling salesman solver is used to calculate the constrained time-optimal path to survey designated area of interest for two cases, one UAV and up to 5 UAVs. Figures of merit and the cost function that drive the optimal path-planning problem are explored. Route planning methodology is developed and simulation results are presented.

This work shows the feasbility of using genetic optimization for UAV flight planning, with K-Means clustering to distribute paths based on a UAV endurance estimate. This methodology may be improved by incorporating UAV flight dynamics into the cost function, moving to an energy based cost function and improving the cluster estimation method to go beyond distance. The path planning algorithm should also take into account the effects of ground concavity on the result of the photogrammetric post processing quality. To bring the AirTheo product to reality. A UAV flight controller will need to be developed which takes the GPS coordinate paths from the ground station and fly its path. Other control point estimation methods will need to be considered for land survey areas that aren't rectangular. The path planning computer and UAV flight computer will also need to be programmed to maintain line-of-sight with the calibration module for improved accuracy.

Map of UAV paths in Burnet Woods
Flow diagram describing UAV optimum flight paths
Topographical plots from Google Maps. One bounded and the other not.
Plots showing optimum path and convergence on optimum path
Topographical plot overlaid with optimum paths

Greenwood, Faine. Chapter 4: How to Make Maps with Drones. Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development, A Primer. 

C. Álvarez, A. Roze  A. Halter, and L. Garcia. Generating highly accurate 3D data using a senseFly albris drone. 

Walter Volkmann and Grenville Barnes, “Virtual Surveying: Mapping and Modeling Cadastral Boundaries Using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS),” (paper presented at the XXV FIG Congress, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, June 16-21, 2014), http://www.fg.net/resources/proceedings/fg_proceedings/fg2014/papers/ts09a/TS09A_barnes_volkmann_7300.pdf.

P. Barry and R. Coakley, “Field Accuracy Test of RPAS Photogrammetry,” (paper presented at UAV-g 2013, Zurich, Switzerland, May 16, 2013), http://www.uav-g.org/Presentations/UAS_and_Photogrammetry/Barry_P-Field_Accuracy_Test.pdf.

“Step 1. Before Starting a Project > 1. Designing the Images Acquisition Plan > a. Selecting the Images Acquisition Plan Type,” Pix4D Support Site, April 24, 2015, 

  • Brandon E. Miller, Gaurav Patel
  • Dr. Kelly Cohen
  • Bryan Brown, Nathaniel Richards

The goal of this research project is to design a UAS that interacts with the environment, moving past a simple flying machine and towards an environment manipulating system. Similar to a package delivery UAV or a UAV with a mechanical arm attachment, FLiDS will have to deal with a changing weight, shifting payload mass, custom payload design, and custom/modified flight controller.

FLiDS works as a proof of concept that a water spraying uav is a doable task, and can be achieved in an econonimic manner. Compared to systems that spray water in a "crop duster" manner, FLiDS uses directed spray and can target with greater accuracy what it will spray. FLiDS opens up doors in creating a UAV that can do many different tasks from spraying herbicides, spot treating pesticides, painting infrastructure, and more. The most important conclusion from this research project is that UAV systems capable of interacting with their environment are the future of unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Multi rotor UAV sitting on ground in room
Multi rotor UAV sitting on ground in room
Multi rotor UAV sitting on ground in room
Multi rotor UAV sitting on ground in room
Multi rotor UAV sitting on ground in room
  • Lydia Smoot and Vince DeChellis 
  • Dr. Kelly Cohen 
  • Justin Ouwerkerk

In 2011 the Great East Japan earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohoku became the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world on record; yet, the real devastation came with the tsunami triggered by this natural disaster.  Due to electrical loss and cooling system failure at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant hydrogen gas built up within the outer containment building causing level 7 meltdowns and multiple nuclear reactor explosions. These explosions released radioactive material into the air, soil and sea inciting a large scale evacuation and over 1,000 deaths. The purpose of this project is to investigate the adaptation of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) for simple missions in hazardous or inhospitable environments resulting from natural and unnatural disasters. For a community already devastated by a major disaster, the implementation of a UAV in place of a human life would have incredible financial and safety benefits. This project aims to create an easy-to-operate UAV, using low cost off-the-shelf components, simple system design, and a light weight frame. Through this research the team hopes to further prove the unlimited application opportunities for UAVs and prevent the harm of human life in dangerous environments. 

Our goal was to build an low cost off-the-shelf quadcopter and attach a 3D-printed robotic arm underneath for soil sample collection. With the success of our project we proved the unlimited application opportunities for UAVs in their ability to prevent harm of human life in emergency situations. For future work we hope to see the design scaled up, cameras and sensors added, and the robotic arm automated. In conclusion, we believe once our design is a fully autonomous system there will be a real market in the industry for this type of UAV. 

Multi rotor UAV sitting on table
Arm on multi rotor UAV holding scoop of dirt
Multi rotor UAV sitting on table
Man and woman in room presenting project powerpoint
Man and woman in room presenting project powerpoint
Drone arm used to scoop dirt
  • Seth Holsinger
  • Doctor Mark Turner
  • Logan Naber, Justin Holder, Elliot Gardner, Pritesh Mandal

The purpose of this project is to develop a rotor-stator system which is powered by a electric motor. The final goal for this project is to build a working engine which can be used on an actual aircraft. Currently the project is developing a smaller scale test version of the engine. This version will be constant hub and shroud diameters and will be limited to 15 kW of power. This version will be used for demonstration purposes.

The technology being developed in this program and in others such as Airbus E-fan are important steps in proving that electricity is a viable alternative to chemical fuels for certain aircraft applications. Which has the potential along with improved battery technology to lower pollution caused by the aviation industry. The APOP team has made progress towards being able to produce a small scale engine for testing purposes.

The next step will be to finalize the design of the engine and begin production and testing.   

Testing a blade in computational fluid analysis
Testing a blade in computational fluid analysis
Turbine engine 3D CAD model

Up to 3 credits of UG Research can be used for Technical Elective credit, and students may petition the Aerospace Curriculum Committee to use up to 3 additional semester credits of UG Research for Technical Elective credit. Approval of these petitions will depend primarily on the student's academic standing, the student's accomplishments in prior registrations for UG Research, and the recommendation of the faculty member who will supervise the additional research (whose signature must appear on the petition along with the student's signature).

Requirements for UG Research credits:

  1. Full-time undergraduate status in "good standing" (no academic deficiencies) at Pre-Junior level or above.
  2. Registration for AEEM-5035 for the appropriate number of credits (usually 3).
  3. After enrolling in AEEM-5035, students must download the attached AEEM-5035-001 Undergraduate Research Proposal form. This form must be typed, signed by you and the proposed faculty supervisor and delivered to 745 Baldwin Hall for approval by Dr. Prashant Khare. We suggest this be done within the first two weeks of the start of the semester.
  4. At the end of the semester, a written report of the research must be turned in to the research advisor, and the student must present a public oral presentation on the research. Teresa Meyer in the Aerospace office will schedule these presentations. Sometimes due to scheduling conflicts, some of the presentations may be scheduled for early in the following semester, but only for students who are not graduating that semester.