Back in 2007, a group of six motivated students from various branches of RV College of Engineering, Bangalore, wanted to adapt what they learnt in their classroom to real life. This was easier said than done but the team was determined to accomplish it.
The team, named as Team Vyoma, worked on the design and development of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and decided to take part in the prestigious SAE Aero Design competition held at Atlanta, GA.
“It was the team’s dream to fly or make things fly. Since the budget of building a microlight aircraft was beyond the capacity of the students, the team decided to go for UAVs. Designing and developing a UAV is easy compared to a full-scale aircraft. It is also safe to test UAVs as there are no crew on board. It was tough initially as ours was the first Asian team to take part in this competition and could therefore not get help from any source,” says Vignesh Pai, one of the members of Team Vyoma.
Despite all the challenges, Team Vyoma received an outstanding performance award at the SAE Aero Design competition 2008 and earned an appreciation letter from former president Pratibha Patil. The team has so far taken part in the competition five times and last month it won the prestigious NASA Systems Engineering Award for the design of the UAV among 75 teams from all over the world. The team also won a trophy and $750.
“Our first plane weighed 6 kg and could carry a 12 kg payload. Through innovation in design technique and approaches, materials etc, the team built a UAV that weighed just 130 gram for the SAE Aero Design 2013. This is a result of improvisation in design and materials over a period of five years and many phases. The team is already working on optimising the current plane and to make it suitable for various practical applications,” says Maithreya JS, another member of Team Vyoma.
He adds, “The team had to face many challenges. The first was that of technical knowledge. Our college does not have an aeronautical department and hence all the knowledge required to design a UAV had to be acquired by students themselves along with the curriculum. This was extremely tough because their curriculum is vast and only time management could guarantee them success.”
Funding was the second major problem. Students point out that the college funds were insufficient to fund the project as the budget was huge. While the team was successful in getting some corporate sponsorship, it did have to spend some money as innovation cost from their own pocket.
Asked why they chose the field of aero space, they say, “UAVs are the future. They can be put to a diverse uses - from the field of agriculture to defence. UAVs can replace pilots in combat planes, which in turn reduces casualties and also eliminate the need to train pilots which is expensive. UAVs can go a long way in reducing our defence budget without compromising on the safety.”
This has not stopped the Team Vyoma from further improvising the innovation. “The plane we are currently working on is the most promising of all our designs. This plane can carry 3.5 times its own weight and being small, just 58 centimetre in wingspan, it is virtually undetectable. Hence, this plane can be used for military surveillance at a lower cost and lower risk of being intercepted,” says Paneendra Bhat, who is a part of Team Vyoma.
The plane designed by the team consists of structure and avionics to control the plane. The team is working on making the plane useful for practical applications like surveillance and other related fields. The total cost of the entire plane depends on the application and fields in which it is eventually used.
Unfortunately, funding has been a big problem for further development. “Once the funding problems are addressed, we hope to get into the market soon,” says Srihari another member of Team Vyoma.
Team: 6 members
Background: Mechanical, electronics, instrumentation technology etc
Focus Area: Development of aeronautical devices
Outcome/impact: Designed and developed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
What next: Innovating in the field of aerospace technology
‘The students have made it possible’
RS Kulkarni, who is a faculty advisor of various SAE projects, including Vyoma, is working as a professor and head of department of mechanical engineering. He has been working with the college for the last 22 years and has carried out various R&D projects funded by UGC, DST, ISRO etc.
“When some students met me in 2007 with an idea of building a UAV, I was very excited but could not believe that it would be possible because the students do not have any formal training in aerospace engineering, I was not too sure whether they could do it,” says Kulkarni. “But with their determination to learn, their self-confidence, their go- getter attitude and hard work, the students equipped themselves with the technical knowhow, became successful and created history by being the first Indian team to build a UAV and participated in the SAE event.”
According to Kulkarni, RV College of Engineering encourages such activities.