University of East London students flying ahead with innovative anti-collision drones
Students working on similar drone technology to that of NASA and Google
We have clearly come a long way since Leonardo da Vinci’s famous flying machine, the Ornithopter, if the innovative work of University of East London (UEL) software engineering students Muhammad Jaffar and Zacky Mohammed is anything to go by.
Zacky (pictured right), from East Ham, and Muhammad (left), from Beckton, have placed themselves on the cutting edge of drone development by constructing and engineering two user-friendly anti-collision drones that can be operated by contactless hand signals.
In December 2015, Forbes magazine reported that NASA, Google, Amazon, and Stanford University were working on similar technology to fit multiple drones with anti-collision algorithms.
Zacky explained that choosing to work on a drone project for his BSc Software Engineering final-year project at UEL was an obvious choice.
“Consumer-use drones are becoming cheaper to buy and more advanced,” he said.
“Their potential is being realised by the likes of Amazon, the police and as part of the response to humanitarian disasters, so I wanted to put my passion into something as cutting edge as drone development.”
Drones are a type of unmanned aerial vehicle, like a small plane without a human pilot, which are operated remotely by a person directing the travel and other functions.
The British and US military have made regular use of drones in recent years, but commercial avenues have been opened up by likes of Facebook, who plan to use solar-powered drones to provide internet access to remote areas, and Amazon, who are looking to use drones as part of their growing delivery service.
During his research, Zacky says he saw a gap in the market for consumer-friendly, anti-collision drones that were easy to use and affordable.
Building on current drone design and computer coding, he devised a way to add ultrasonic sensors, giving his drone 360-degree anti-collision coverage without affecting its agility.
“Anything that gets within 30cm of the drone results in it moving away from the mid-air object, which could be a bird or another drone, for example,” he explained.
Course-mate Muhammad has designed a similar drone and has made a video to show how it works.
He has also experimented with the java script computer code linking the drone’s Wi-Fi signal receiver to a computer, which is connected to the remote control via a wire. The operator can use the remote control without actually touching it by using hand signals that are detected by the remote.
“I wanted the remote control to match the special features of the drone, so I designed it to be contactless. Apart from the novelty value, it has potential for people who would otherwise not be able to operate a standard remote control due to a disability, for example.”
Zacky, who graduates this year, has secured a job with V W Ware, who specialise in virtual data centres. It means he will get to develop his technical knowledge and do something he enjoys.
He will also continue to work on his drone project and has plans to incorporate SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) technology so his drone can map rooms, operate a camera and lock onto and follow objects.
“I’ve always had a passion for computers and finding ways to push the limits of what they could do,” he said. “When I was a teenager, I’d find ways to enhance the software on my PS2 game console and found ways to change and improve the operating systems on smartphones.”