student with UAV helmet
WIALD president Nicole Vieger works on a helmet that will be used to transmit brainwaves to fly UAVs.

This spring, members of the Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development (WIALD) student organization are assembling quadcopters. Sometimes referred to as drones, quadcopters are unmanned helicopters with four rotors. But instead of flying the quadcopters remotely, WIALD members plan to control them in a less conventional way, by using human brain waves, voice commands and body movements. Ideally, a quadcopter would even be able to recognize when a person’s command is wrong and correct for it. 

“Quadcopters are the future,” WIALD president Nicole Vieger said. “Being able to deliver things remotely is kind of the place where things are going right now. Being able to work with quadcopters in that way is really cool. Then being able to use this technology that you might think of as being in sci-fi movies, and being able to apply that to quadcopters control them with your mind, is something our group thought was really exciting.”

Every year, WIALD develops a project to give students hands-on, engineering experience. In the past, projects have included repairing, modifying and flying a senior design aircraft, building a miniature Mars rover, and designing and launching a high altitude weather balloon.

“As with most of the aerospace orgs, WIALD is completely student-run, so we’re in charge of getting our own funding, choosing the projects, figuring out how to do the project, buying the supplies, stuff like that,” Vieger said. “We have a leadership team in charge of monitoring and making sure everything gets done, then we have the members, who are actually building the projects.”

According to Vieger, the idea for the project came from ASE/EM Professor Ufuk Topcu a while back, and this year the team felt ready to take on the challenge.

WIALD members kicked off the project by learning how to use ROS (Robot Operating System)—a platform for accessing tools to create robotic commands—in workshops led by graduate student Mohammed Alshiekh. According to Vieger, WIALD doesn’t usually hold workshops like this, but they have been necessary this year because learning the platform is such a new experience for the students.

“Mohammed has been super helpful, and he volunteered to have these workshops, which I hadn’t expected him to,” Vieger said. “I thought we’d be figuring out everything, but he’s been wonderful in providing these workshops and resources.”

In early March, team members began printing helmets with a 3-D printer and assembling them. To control the quadcopters, a user would wear one of these helmets, which can register brain waves and then communicate them to a quadcopter. 

Though Vieger’s role as president has been less hands-on that her role has been in past years, as a historian and regular member, she too has had the opportunity to learn important skills as a leader, such as coordinating members’ schedules and delegating responsibility.

WIALD welcomes both female and male students, who join the organization for the same reason the women do—to get hands-on aerospace engineering experience and meet friends. Vieger says she hopes the students will gain experience from WIALD that they can tell future employers about.

“WIALD offered me so many opportunities my freshman year,” Vieger said. “It gave me the chance to meet some of my best friends that I have in aerospace right now, while also offering me some cool, hands-on projects to do and learn about engineering first-hand. It was something I wanted to give back to, since WIALD had given so much to me.”

The quadcopter project should be completed by the end of the semester and WIALD members hope to hold a demonstration in May. 

WIALD group photo 2016-17
The 2016-17 WIALD student organization group photo. For more information about the organization, visit the WIALD website