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Autonomous Robotics Competition Club at Penn State

First Responder UAS Endurance Challenge Stage 4 Finalist and 3rd Place Winner

The Autonomous Robotics Competition Club (ARCC) is a student organization at The Pennsylvania State University, comprising of both graduate and under-graduate students from different branches of engineering such as Aerospace, Computer Science, Electrical, Mechanical and Material Sciences. The club was founded in Spring 2018 under the aegis of Dr. Eric N. Johnson who is the Academic Advisor for the club. Over the past three years, the team has participated in multiple competitions including the VFS MAV Competition, Alpha Pilot, IARC and the IMAV competition. The team has tasted success in the IMAV Outdoor Competition wherein the team was placed Second and was also awarded the Best Flight Performance award.

Team Members: Eric Johnson, Rachel Axten, Vidullan Surendran, Wen-Yu Chien,
Venkatakrishnan Iyer, and Vitor Valente

Eric Johnson is a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. He received a B.S. degree from University of Washington, M.S. degrees from MIT and The George Washington University, and a Ph.D. from Georgia Tech. He also has five years of industry experience working at Lockheed Martin and Draper. As faculty since 2001, he has performed research in unmanned aircraft faulttolerant control, aided inertial navigation, and autonomy. This work has included the first air-launch of a hovering aircraft, automatic flight of a helicopter with simulated frozen actuators, and vision-based air-to-air tracking. His most recent work has included automatic low altitude high speed flight of helicopters, indoor and outdoor vision-aided inertial navigation, and methods for sensing and avoiding other aircraft. The mission of this work has been to enable unmanned aircraft systems to contribute to society. 

Rachel Axten is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow studying Aerospace Engineering as a member of the Pennsylvania UAV Research Lab (PURL) under Dr. Eric Johnson. Her research focus is in vehicle dynamics and unmanned vehicle controls, providing the technical background to lead the ARCC team to a 2nd place win at the IMAV 2019 Competition. Rachel’s industry experience spans three internships at the Boeing Company in GNC, flight testing, and wind tunnel testing on both defense and space platforms. Her related skills include Part 107 certification and experience in both fixed-wing and quadcopter unmanned vehicle construction and flight testing.

Wen-Yu Chien is a M.S. student studying aerospace engineering at Penn State University and working at the Pennsylvania UAV Research Lab (PURL) under Dr. Eric Johnson. Wen-Yu earned his B.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics engineering at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and was the team leader of the UAV team under the department in junior and senior years. His research at PURL is using RealSense stereo cameras to reconstruct an unknown environment on a drone in real-time on-board and is funded by DARPA. He has participated in the 2019 IMAV Competition in Spain and oversaw hardware testing, design and integration.

Oliver Dunbabin is a graduate research assistant studying aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University, with a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering and a Bachelor of Science (physics) from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He has experience working for the DSTG, a branch of the Australian Department of Defense, researching radio and antenna physics for aerospace applications. His primary area of research interest concerns machine perception, localization, and mapping for autonomous aerial vehicles. He has competed in IARC and IMAV competitions as software engineer, with focus on computer vision and state estimation, and systems engineer - integrating hardware and software.

Pramod Kumar is a Master’s research student working on cloud orchestrator optimization i.e Kubernetes and machine learning theory at Penn State university. He carries 4 year of industry experience at Cisco system in building enterprise software for managing and discovering IOT devices in enterprise networks, these solutions are deployed at Apple and hundreds of schools across the USA. Before graduate school, Pramod was working on autonomous multirotor UAV for 3 years in Cisco incubation lab and won 2nd place out of 4500+ participants in Hackadrone 2018 competition, India.

Venkatakrishnan Iyer is a Ph.D. student in Aerospace Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. He has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Mumbai University and a M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Penn State. His industry experience spans more than eight years, working at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited as a Systems Integration Designer for Helicopters. His current research involves dynamics and modeling of helicopters with development of adaptive control architectures and control allocation schemes. He was the lead software engineer for the IMAV competition. Venkatakrishnan also holds a FAA Part 107 License and is well equipped to fly drones.

Vidullan Surendran is a Ph.D. candidate in Aerospace Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University whose research spans areas of Human Robot Interaction, Intention Recognition, and Causal discovery. He has an M.Eng. in Aerospace from the University of Southampton, UK and a M.Sc. in Aerospace from Penn State. He has been an instructor for senior level courses on Advanced Programming Concepts in C++ and Software Engineering Techniques at the Penn State Aerospace Engineering department. As one of the founding members of PSU ARCC, he has been involved in most of the competitions working on vehicle AI/decision making, software integration, electrical subsystem design and structural design. Currently he is applying machine learning techniques to energy conservation and his team is one of the finalists in the Penn State Nittany AI challenge.

ARCC’s solution for the challenge was a hybrid heavy lift quadcopter. The overall weight of the proposed configuration is around 47 lbs with an estimated endurance of 90 minutes. Owing to a hybrid solution, higher levels of endurance can be achieved with a larger fuel tank. 28" propellers are used in the proposed configuration that allow for generation of sufficient thrust. A high thrust to weight ratio allows the drone to hover at a lower throttle, thus facilitating maneuvering and forward flight. The VTOL configuration ensures that the drone can operate in a small confined environment with minimal loiter. The co-axial quadrotor configuration achieves multiple objectives such as higher yaw stability and redundancy in case of failure of one or more motors. The hybrid solution also allows for redundancy in terms of power thus allowing safe landing in case of failure of the primary power source.


Created August 30, 2021, Updated April 5, 2022