The competition held recently for students of technology from across the country at the Abu Dhabi cricket stadium gauged their skills at designing, building, testing and flying remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles. Image Credit: Abdel_krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Emirati engineering students gained practical experience at a different level last week while testing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) they built on their own during a nationwide Higher Colleges of Technology competition.

Male and female students divided into nine teams from across 17 campuses applied their mathematical and scientific knowledge to build and fly their creations.

"This is an engineering design project where students design, build, test and pilot remote-controlled UAVs," said Mike Jacobsen, chair of electrical engineering at Abu Dhabi Men's College. "They do this by following specifications and guidelines and then fly the machines by satellite GPS systems."

The teams were judged for speed, performance and endurance of their respective UAVs. "Students were judged for design, weight, specifications and knowledge of their aircraft," he said. "Through this competition they learn teamwork, presentation and leadership skills." Students also gain engineering research experience through the application of knowledge to solve practical problems, Jacobsen said.

This competition, in its second year, is run in conjunction with Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) and the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investment. "NGC supplies the teams with identical kits for the planes' engines but the teams have to do all the work in getting their planes to fly," Jacobsen said.

Training support

NGC has also sent engineers to provide training and advice to Emirati students for the competition, which was targeted at second- and third-year engineering students.

"The designs this year are quite complex and probably more advanced than the inaugural event of last year where first-year students were involved," he said.

Although the flying part of the competition may look like pure fun, pulling it off calls for significant research, analysis and planning on the students' part. "Through research we found that v-tails mostly used on gliders did not best fit our purpose because we wanted to make our UAV as light as possible, so we built a horizontal and vertical stabiliser," explained engineering student, Shereen Al Mazroui. "For construction material, we used really light balsa wood and some fibreglass for the machine to be light yet strong enough not to break."

"Although the activity was not graded, it gave students the practical experience of putting engineering principles into effect," Jacobsen said.

The Flying Atoms team from Dubai Men's College took top prize and won a trip to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Convention for North America to be held in Las Vegas in August.