MN Space Grant Receives NASA Funding for Community College Quadrotor Design Competition
The Minnesota Space Grant Consortium, based in the Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics (AEM) department (Director, Professor William Garrard, and Associate Director, James Flaten) has received a two year grant from NASA to support a community college based program to improve STEM recruitment and retention. This program is designed to (1) increase the number of community college students who graduate with STEM degrees and/or transfer to STEM programs at four year institutions, (2) increase the ability of community college faculty members to deliver aerospace-related content in areas of interest to NASA, and (3) enhance the diversity of students pursing STEM education at Minnesota community colleges. These objectives will be accomplished by the use of small model helicopters (quadrotors) in competitions between student design groups at five Minnesota community colleges. These design groups will be led by faculty advisors at the various community colleges.
Each year seven student teams of five students will participate, each advised by a community college faculty member. Thus over the two-year period of the program, fourteen teams (a total of seventy students) and seven or more community college faculty advisers will participate. The community colleges participating in the program are in different locations in Minnesota, in order to provide geographic diversity. Community college partners include Central Lakes College in Brainerd (North Central MN), Century College in White Bear Lake (Minneapolis/St Paul Metro Area), Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College which is a MnSGC affiliate located in Cloquet (North East MN), Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington (South Western MN), and Itasca Community College in Itasca (North Central MN). The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities will serve as lead institution.
Quadrotors will be used for the competition because quadrotor kits are readily available. Experience has shown that compared to fixed-wing radio-controlled airplanes, students can quickly learn to pilot quadrotors, and quadrotors can be operated in small spaces (including indoors) with no infrastructure (which is not the case with fixed-wing radio controlled airplanes). Each student team will start by building and learning to fly a basic quadrotor from a commercially-available kit (each team will use the same brand of kit for uniformity). Students will significantly modify their kits in order to mount sensors, actuators, and electronics necessary for the competition challenges. This will also involve some mechanical design and fabrication, giving the students experience with computer-aided design (CAD) software and 3-D printing. In addition, the students will have to learn microcontroller programming and integration of electronics, sensors, actuators, and data-logging to ensure that they function properly.