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Drexel Engineers Build Trifecta of Robots to Navigate Underwater, Ground and Aerial

September 7, 2012

Standing from left to right with the underwater robot:  Dr. Pramod Abichandani, Sean Wagoner, Cezary Mlynarz, Damien Turchi, Ian WynyardFour undergraduate Drexel students spent the summer months building underwater, ground and aerial robots under the guidance of two graduate students and assistant teaching professor Dr. Pramod Abichandani.

“We call it the trifecta,” Abichandani, who is an assistant teaching professor of the College of Engineering, said of the three projects.

The team members work in pairs or singly on each robot while helping each other out and calling on graduate students Sean Wagoner and Chris Berry when necessary.

Damien Turchi and Cezary Mlynarz, who are incoming sophomores studying Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics (MEM), are working together on the underwater robot which has a camera attached to help observe visible levels of pollution in the Schuylkill River. They’ve also hooked the robot up a to video game controller to make underwater steering intuitive for users.

Meanwhile, sophomore Elliott Williams and graduate student Wagoner, who both study Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), are working on the ground robot. The team is developing a computer program called BotWorks to control the ground robot. Users choose a certain destination on the computer screen that represents the robot workspace. The robot, in turn, moves towards the corresponding location on the ground along a straight line. The robot can also be commanded to follow custom paths on the ground through BotWorks.

Ian Wynyard, a MEM sophomore, is designing and fabricating the aerial robot for the trifecta. This robot uses a powerful motor to create forces that provide substantial lift.

“I think the raw talent comes from [the undergraduate] level—these students are amazingly well-informed,” said Abichandani of his team.

The team frequently demonstrates their projects to promote an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers among younger students. They recently demonstrated the robots to 52 sixth-grade gifted-class students from the Welsh Valley Middle School in the Lower Merion School District.

The team anticipates that all three robot platforms will be fully functional by the end of Drexel’s summer term. They would also like all three robots to be controlled through BotWorks in the future.

Abichandani earned his master of science in 2007 and doctorate in 2011 from Drexel. He has since worked with undergraduate and graduate students on several projects involving robots during his time as a graduate student teacher and an assistant teaching professor at Drexel.

Standing from left to right with the underwater robot:  Dr. Pramod Abichandani, Sean Wagoner, Cezary Mlynarz, Damien Turchi and Ian Wynyard.