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It was a dream come true for five Bangalore students when their 'baby' took off on the tarmac, which is generally used by sophisticated US naval aircraft. Not just that, by flying their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), these students also stood first in Asia and third in the world displaying their technological prowess.
For the last one year, it has been the dream of students to build aero models. "We would take these aero models made out of thermocol out of Bangalore to fly it manually. But, we never took it seriously as to whether we can build an UAV ourselves. Then, we were doing research in IISc when we met Dr Prashanth, who heads the micro nutrient department in St John's hospital. Prashanth, who has a hobby of building UAVs, encouraged us to do UAVs and this was when we took it as a challenge and completed in three months flat. Our UAV is made of balsa wood while its wings are manufactured using thermocol. The engine is electrically powered for which we have coded to take instructions. The instructions are sent from a laptop to the autopilot device installed in the UAV. This auto pilot, we fondly call as paparazzi," explained Prasanna R, a team member.

Then with the UAV in their arms, these mechanical engineering students of M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology headed to Maryland, USA to participate in the ninth Annual Student Unmanned Air Systems (SUAS) event from June 15-19. The competition was about building an UAV capable of autonomous flight (auto piloted) and live imagery while airborne and identifying some ground targets and determining their GPS coordinates, explained Prateek Khanna, another student.

Participant Rajharsee Rahul said, "Our mission was to fly autonomously (without human intervention) using an autopilot controlled by ground station laptop and survey the given area. The competition was very tough. Students from 34 universities from across the world were participating."
In the first round, these students were shortlisted from a preliminary test while the second round was based on safety measures and the third was the actual flight session. The final round had four phases; presenting the journal paper, followed by an autonomous flight, oral presentation and image processing, added Srikanth Singh, another student.

The competition was sponsored by companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Northrop Grumman, Compass Systems etc, said Prasanna.
The team was awarded the 3rd place for autonomous flight and 4th place in the journal paper out of 36 international teams present there. They received a cash prize of $2700 (about Rs 1,35,000).
Now, the students are planning to have an UAV club in college and share their experience with other students to ensure better performance in next year's competition. "Now, we can build an UAV in two weeks," said Vishnu B N, a team member.


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