Society profile: Unmanned Aerial Systems society
The Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) society is designing and manufacturing an aerial system capable of autonomously launching, navigating and delivering a light payload to compete in the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) UAS Challenge 2018. We caught up with UAS Society President Muhammad Arslan to find out how the society was founded, who they are looking for to help them compete, and how the competition is going so far
5 February 2018
Could you tell us about how the society was started and why you chose to enter the UAS Challenge?
All my life I have been fascinated by the idea of flight. I can recall every personal adventure my father has narrated, to the finest detail, who has been a pilot in the Pakistan Navy himself. When I learnt of the UAS Challenge, I naturally jumped at the opportunity to develop my engineering skills and pursue something that interests me, as well as represent Queen Mary internationally. The challenge itself has been around for four years now, and the School of Engineering and Materials Science (SEMS) panel was interested in representation at the event as well as the potential skills students could develop by being part of the challenge. Thus, the society was created to provide students interested in unmanned flight and aviation the opportunity to gain international exposure, build up manufacturing and analytical skills, as well as network with lead sponsors at the event such as GKN Aerospace, QinetiQ and Lockheed Martin.
It is now a couple of months into the competition – how have you found it so far?
The competition is based on several important steps that contribute towards the final airworthiness of the UAS. We presented our concept paper to judges at the IMechE, finalised our designs, and are now working towards manufacture and testing. So far, I think it has been challenging to come up with the designs and finalise key aspects of this in such a short space of time. However, the support from Ms Kristina, the event organizer at IMechE, as well as fellow team members, has been monumental. SEMS has also provided sponsorship and academic support from members of staff who are experts in their field. When it comes to getting the tasks done, I believe it comes down to the amount of enthusiasm you demonstrate rather than the actual skills you have, because enthusiasts can develop skills but if you’re skilled and lack enthusiasm, it doesn’t always work the other way around.
What can you tell us about the aircraft you are working on? What’s special about it?
Our aircraft initially started as an initial prototype called P1, a design providing a practical aspect to the concept of ‘gear reduction’ to increase torque, as well as using bearings to mount the propeller directly on the tail spar. However, the idea was quickly scrapped in favour of a more beneficial prototype incorporating a quadcopter and fixed-wing UAS hybrid. A nitro engine, mounted on the plane’s rear allows it to increase in speed and range due to its superior power output while the electronic motors allow it to take-off and land vertically as well as hover at a specified point. Successful implementation leads us to all sorts of applications, as drones usually use electric motors but lack speed and endurance, while it’s the contrary with a fixed wing design. So, we’ve merged the two concepts to get the best of both worlds in an economical package.
Which assignment has been the most challenging so far and how did you overcome this particular challenge?
I would say coming up with a concept to present to the UAS panel for initial assessment in such a short space of time was the biggest challenge we had to overcome. This concept stage was critical to the project as it comes down to determining how to allocate the right tasks to the right people. As is the case with many design and manufacture scenarios, your situations evolve daily. In addition to that, we’re indigenously developing the Optical Character Recognition setup (the ability to analyse text from images and display them in digital format), as well the mixing of quad rotor configuration with the fixed wing configuration. This means that there’s lots going on in the team, but we’ve broken it down into sub-teams engaged with different areas and its working out perfectly.
Do you have to be an engineer to join the society?
Not at all! There are several prizes in addition to the winner and runner-up award. A good example of this is the best business award, given to the team promising most business potential for their UAS. There’s also an award for health and safety and compliance. For this, you can involve legal students who are better suited to understand the compliance issues and the legal entities that exist in the UK. Because of this, we’re happy to welcome applications from all sorts of students who can help increase our chances towards winning any of these awards, as well as those who are interested in developing skills in one of the leading commercial industries of today. As they say, ‘the future is in the air’, and the interpersonal skills you gain by being part of this society are priceless in the eyes of almost all graduate employers, regardless of your qualifications.
Are they any opportunities to get involved with the society and how can people do this?
We always encourage new applications from all applicants! It’s highly advisable to do so especially if you’re an engineering student as were developing all sorts of skills, from manufacturing and production to coding in python. Students pursuing business-related qualifications, in addition to presenting our business case at the event, are also learning how to make drones for a fraction of the price of commercially available ready-to-fly counterparts. There are many skills for you to develop with us, as long as you have the enthusiasm.