Engineering students create volcano-monitoring UAS during design challenge

Engineering students create volcano-monitoring UAS during design challenge

Undergraduates at the University of Bristol have designed and built an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as part of a Boeing-funded programme.

The four students developed a unique unmanned airborne system (UAS) that will be used to monitor the activity of a live volcano in Latin America.


University of Bristol engineering students Syed Haidar (left), Mohammed Rweished (centRE) and Ignacio Soria Ramirez work on the unmanned airborne system they’ve built as part of a Boeing-funded programme at the University. The system will be used to monitor the activity of a live volcano in Latin America 

As part of a Boeing-funded programme at the University of Bristol, the four engineering students designed the electric-powered UAS to collect atmospheric data and ash samples from the Fuego volcano in Guatemala during an expedition in November 2016.

The aim of the students - Mohammad Rweished and Syed Taqi Haider from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Ignacio Soria Ramirez and Joshua Riches from the Department of Aerospace Engineering - is to improve ash cloud modelling for aviation purposes by analysing the volcano’s activity.

“The Boeing UAS project gives us the responsibility to design our own aircraft, which is a unique opportunity for undergraduates,” Ramirez said. “The project poses challenges from both aerodynamic and electronic perspectives, requiring collaboration between different engineering disciplines. Learning to compromise within a team is invaluable experience for any career in engineering.”

“The initial focus of ash sample collection from the volcano’s plume is a highly challenging and technically demanding task ideally suited to small unmanned systems”, said Dr Tom Richardson, a senior lecturer in flight dynamics and control at the University of Bristol, and the project’s co-ordinator.

A significant challenge is the requirement for the UAS to be electrically powered, which demands an innovative approach to the design. The UAS is able to maintain a flight time of about an hour, provides live video feed from up close to the volcano and collects ash samples from the volcano plume for later analysis by volcanologists.

The scope and purpose of the project is not limited to volcano monitoring. “Core technical challenges are being overcome to provide a platform that can be developed for different environmental monitoring purposes,” the students said.

“The Boeing project offers an opportunity to explore the application of UASs in new markets and in aiding everyday tasks,” Rweished said. “The project poses high demands on reliable, safe communication links that can be used in other applications and industries. Maximizing flight times using renewable and cleaner technology makes sustainability and efficiency core of the project.”

Boeing and University officials said they envisage the project becoming an annual activity that combines aspects of aerospace engineering, such as UAS design and control and operation in a controlled space, with aspects of electrical and electronic engineering, such as communications, observation and sensing. The project is consistent with both Bristol’s and Boeing’s research interests in systems integration.

“The University of Bristol engineering students have shown wonderful creativity and expertise in identifying a real-world problem and now developing a practical solution, in the form of this electric UAS,” said Sir Michael Arthur, president of Boeing UK and Ireland. “Boeing is proud to be able to support these accomplished students who will be the engineering leaders of the future - a future in which Boeing will have a great need for their talent.”

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