February 2012 - Present
Since February 2012, I’ve been the Director of the University of Minnesota Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Laboratories. I manage and develop a group of about 20 - 30 undergraduate students, graduate students, and staff working on many simultaneous research projects. I conduct strategic planning and manage all aspects of the lab. I’ve gained a great deal of experience writing proposals and developing relationships with other academic institutions; industry; and local, federal, and international government entities.
I’ve generated over $6M in grants and contracts and delivered flight research infrastructures to San Jose State University, NASA, and the German space agency (DLR). I’ve collaborated with the Hungarian Academy of Science (SZTAKI), the MN Department of Transportation, MN Department of Employment and Economic Development, and have conducted joint flight research with DLR. I gained extensive experience negotiating and writing contracts, developing requirements and work breakdown structures, and managing schedules and programs. Recently, I’ve attracted and brought in some excellent new staff hires and built up a much larger, new lab space to continue growing our capabilities.
In addition to the business development, I’ve led the lab through the development of new open-source flight control systems and research aircraft. I developed lab policies, standard operating procedures, and the lab’s culture. We now conduct flight research with authorization from the FAA and have built the lab into one of the premiere flight research facilities.
Our current major research programs include:
- Precision agriculture (PA) research and development in collaboration with entomologists and economists. Images from current UAVs used for PA require a great deal of post-processing before they can be used and then the decision making about treating fields is still carried out in the traditional way. We’re researching and developing systems to optimize the entire process of gathering data and mapping that data to the field, data-driven decision making, and applying field treatments. This should lead to reduced cost to the farmer, greater yields, lower treatment usage, and reduced impact on the environment. Soybean aphids are being used as a case study. I am a Co-PI for this program.
- Performance Adaptive Aeroelastic Wing (PAAW). This program is researching and developing an aircraft with high aspect ratio, flexible wings with an actively stabilized structure. This research will enable future aircraft that are much lighter, leading to improved fuel consumption. In addition, we will be taking advantage of the flexible wing to continuously morph it to the ideal shape for whatever flight condition the aircraft is in, leading to even greater efficiency compared with current state of the art. I am the Program Manager overseeing the entire program with 6 partners on the team.
- GPS denied navigation. One recent program we completed was to research, develop, and demonstrate technologies to enable a small, hand-launched UAV to be able to navigate in a GPS denied environment. Due to the distance of GPS satellites from Earth, its signal is relatively very weak and easy to spoof or jam with potentially catastrophic results. We researched and developed a system that used cell phone signals to continue flying and navigating a small UAV (pictured at the top of the page) and successfully demonstrated the technology in flight test. I was a Co-PI of this program.
- Fault detection and reliability. Manned aircraft are very reliable due to their use of triply redundant systems. UAVs are so appealing due to their low size and cost, which is incompatible with the approach of needing those levels of redundancy. We’re developing and flight testing algorithms that use either data or model based techniques to detect that a fault has occurred and reconfigure the navigation filters and flight control laws to work around the failure.
In addition to Directing the UAV Laboratories, I teach an introductory seminar: Model Aircraft Design, Flight Test, and Analysis. Students in my introductory course learn basics of flight mechanics and aircraft performance before designing and flight testing a small UAV. Students analyze the flight data and report on the results. I also co-teach a graduate level course: Design-to-Flight: Small Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles. Students in this course learn about systems engineering, flight dynamics, filtering and estimation, and flight controls. Students then design navigation filters and flight control laws before conducting flight tests and data analysis.