A trio of Camosun College students have devised an auto pilot, GPS-capable drone, with a camera, for a fraction of what it would cost retail.
And it runs on the USB video game controller of your choice.
“We wanted to do it for many reasons but it’s not to retail, we’ll probably just share the knowledge,” said Nat Smith.
The group of Smith, Alex Jensen and Erik Van Roosmalen named the drone The Replicator.
It was one of four innovative projects showcased at the college’s Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology Capstone event for the public and potential employers on Friday at the Interurban campus.
“The whole idea is this drone can be programmed to do an entire flight to survey an area, take photos, and return all on its own,” Smith said.
The drone prototype could be used to survey crash sites and forest fires. It’s also capable of reaching speeds of 80 km/h, and can carry three batteries, giving it up to an hour’s worth of flight time. It has GPS accuracy within 12 centimetres compared to an error ratio of two to six metres on a comparable Garmin GPS, Smith said.
“We haven’t tested it to see if it can go 80 km/h because I’m not interested in finding out until the project was complete,” Smith said. “We’ve been pretty conservative with it.”
The group spent three months, plus some time planning before that, to fabricate the machine. It cost about $600 to build, compared to the minimum $2,300 retail cost for a drone that would do less, Smith said.
Because it’s a drone, legislation limits flying in the South Island to certain areas such as Sooke. The Replicator was actually tied down by string for most of its test flights in a Camosun lab.
When they took it to Layritz Park for a low-flight test, passersby were immediately asking questions about its camera capabilities, something the students hadn’t considered during the manufacturing. “A lot of hobbyists who use drones are interested that we can use an X-Box controller,” Van Roosmalen said.
“The mix of projects is inspiring,” said Alan Duncan, chair of the ECET department. “Each team tackles a complex technology challenge and comes up with a tangible and workable solution that has a real-world application. It helps our students to launch successful careers in engineering and technology after graduation.”
The other three projects included a 3G smart phone built from scratch using some software while developing their own, an electric-powered longboard with a wireless hand controller, and a PowerSafe power control system that wirelessly controls the power on any standard North American outlet. The latter is accessible via an Android app, and can mitigate potential fire-hazards, such as leaving a hair straightener on.
The 3G smart phone stood out for the laser quick response of its touch-screen interface, and the rather large and ornately painted blue wooden box it sits in.
“We call it the blue block because of its blue box, but we weren’t focused on the size, that’s something we could do later,” said creators Mike Brautigan and Grant Skeels.
Add in any registered sim card and the phone is immediately operable with all the basic functions of an Android or iPhone, except it has its own operating system.
“We did this for the opportunity to learn the software and operations system,” Brautigan said.