uav austin group photo

For the past year, students on the Texas Engineering Unmanned Aerial Vehicles team — UAV Austin — have been designing, manufacturing, and testing the organization's newest unmanned aerial vehicle in preparation for the annual AUVSI Student Unmanned Aerial Systems competition. The interdisciplinary team is made up of undergraduate students majoring in aerospace engineering and computational engineering in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) as well as students from other engineering and science fields, including electrical and computer engineering and computer sciences.

The organization’s newest UAV, Phoenix III, was designed with state-of-the-art features such as a fully-composite airframe, custom “boom-prop” rear propulsion system and high-speed embedded computer, according to computational engineering major Shawn Lee, who also serves as the UAV Austin program manager.

Improvements made by UAV Austin over the past year include developing a fully-autonomous unmanned ground vehicle and new obstacle avoidance algorithm known as TAN* (Tangent-Assisted Navigation), upgrading its ground station hardware systems and refining both autonomous and manual object detection software systems.

Beginning in spring of this year, team members worked on fabricating their new aircraft and developing its upgraded systems in the newly established Aircraft Systems Fabrication and Boeing Aircraft Systems Integration labs — just two of the many expanded and improved labs available to ASE/EM students in the recently renovated Aerospace Engineering (ASE) building. Flight testing began in March.

uav competition photoTen UAV Austin members and staff team advisor/safety pilot Mark Maughmer traveled to Maryland June 13-16 where they showcased the aircraft in competition flight for the first time at Webster Field at the 2019 AUVSI SUAS competition. This year’s mission objectives included autonomous flight, obstacle avoidance, object detection, localization and characterization, and unmanned ground vehicle delivery.

The Texas Engineering team ranked 14th out of 68 teams from across the globe, taking 15th in Mission, 16th in Flight Readiness Review (presentation), and 3rd in Journal (technical paper), the best paper ranking on record since the team began competing in 2009. Additionally, UAV Austin was awarded a cash prize of $1,200.

One of the team’s biggest challenges during the competition were the windy conditions, but that didn’t stop them from being recognized for their outstanding flight execution.

“The highlight of Phoenix III's performance was its autonomous flight, which was entirely autonomous without a single manual takeover,” said Lee. “According to the judges, it was the best flight in difficult wind conditions. UAV Austin once again proved that it is a top contender in the competition.”

UAV Austin gives students an opportunity to work on real-world systems engineering projects while developing its members into skilled engineers as well as opening doors to future career paths. Lee said the team will continue to refine and make improvements to their UAV system over the next academic year.

"UAV Austin plans to focus on optimization next school year. The team will conduct numerous component and system tests to enhance both hardware and software systems,” said Lee. “Additionally, we will put more effort in mission design and strategy. Ultimately, UAV Austin will continue to shape its members into competent engineers by introducing them to industry-used engineering skills.”

Learn more about UAV Austin on their website and view more photos of the competition.

Our hands-on student projects like UAV Austin rely on external funding. To learn how to support our student teams, contact Bliss Angerman.