DRONES Funded Research 2017

Developing a Modular Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Platform for Air Pollution Profiling and Emergency Monitoring

Dr. Chunrong Jia, Dr. Qijun Gu

UAVs are playing a starring role in many other Institute-funded projects, including one headed by Dr. Chunrong Jia of DRONES, who believes UAVs can be used to efficiently profile air pollution, a significant concern in cities like Memphis. According to Jia, the current monitoring capacity is insufficient for the reliable evaluation of public health risk. “We need to do a better job of monitoring, identifying emission sources and implementing effective pollution control strategies,” he says. The UAV platform Jia is working on will be capable of real-time monitoring of multiple air pollutants. The design will require next generation lightweight sensors, autonomous methods of sample collection, real-time data collection and imaging, and the ability to fly pre-determined pathways for sufficient amounts of time.

Drone Assisted Cavity Ringdown Sensor for Real-time Environmental Methane Gas Monitoring

Dr. Prabhakar Pradhan

In a different DRONES project, Dr. Prabhakar Pradhan is exploring how UAVs can be used to monitor environmental methane gas. “The impact of methane on climate change has been estimated to be 25 percent higher than carbon dioxide over a time period of 100 years,” Pradhan says. “Monitoring and controlling the methane concentration in the atmosphere is extremely important.” Pradhan’s solution is a drone-based spectroscopic sensor that will use a laser scattering and absorption technique to detect gas molecules. It will be more sensitive and accurate than existing techniques and allow easy monitoring of areas that may be difficult for humans to access.

Gravitational effects on Rapid solidification of metal powders for on/off-earth additive manufacturing

Dr. Ebrahim Asadi

Metal additive manufacturing is a new way to make metal products quickly using metal powders and 3-D printing technologies. It has the potential to streamline the production of medical devices for companies like Smith & Nephew and Wright Medical. It could help NASA in its work with lightweight structures. And it could help organizations such as FedEx streamline aircraft parts production and maintenance. However, for additive metal manufacturing to be truly effective in these applications, manufacturers need to be able to control the rapid solidification of the metal powders that come together to form the finished project. Ebrahim Asadi of the DRONES Cluster is exploring ways to do just that. “Understanding and predicting microstructures during rapid solidification,” he says, “is extremely important in many metal additive manufacturing techniques and can open up new opportunities to optimize the finished metal and control quality.” According the Asadi, only with a real-time measurement tool for on-the-fly monitoring of rapid solidification of metal powders can the potential of metal additive manufacturing be fully realized. In fact, this is one of the main obstacles to widespread industrial acceptance of the process despite its huge potential to revolutionize traditional metal manufacturing technologies. That’s why Asadi is working on a predictive and quantitative computational framework and tool. The idea is to use this tool as a virtual rapid solidification laboratory with real-time microstructures to investigate how these microstructures behave in a variety of situations here on earth and under the effects of different gravitational forces, such as the gravity of Mars. The goal is to find the best possible environment for successful, predictable rapid solidification. And the more far-reaching implication? Off-earth additive metal manufacturing could someday become a reality.

Multi-layer Aerosol Deposition for converting a UAV's body into a solar panel

Dr. Ranganathan Gopalakrishnan, Dr. Jingbiao Cui

As drones are employed to take on more complex tasks, they must be able to fly for greater distances and with higher payload capacities. A powerful but light power source is essential. One solution is solar energy. But conventional solar panels can be cumbersome. Drs. Ranga Gopalakrishnan and Jingbiao Cui of the DRONES Cluster are studying a promising alternative: perovskite, an abundant and environmentally friendly mineral made up of calcium titanium oxide. “Perovskite can be synthesized as nanoparticles,” says Cui, “and sprayed directly on the painted surface of the UAV, creating a very thin solar cell that adheres well and is light enough for all types of applications.” If that sounds “out of this world,” Cui says the costs won’t be. He believes that this procedure can be applied for a cost low enough to enable mass production.

Multi-Sensory UAV Approach to Stream Assessments

Scott Schoefernacker, Dr. Brian Waldron

The performance of storm water systems depends upon maintaining reliable flow, and that depends upon being able to see and assess every mile of stream. Typically, a Visual Stream Assessment (VSA) must be conducted every five years to determine the stream and riparian zone’s overall health as well as document individual impairments, including outfalls, erosion, exposed pipes, trash and fish barriers. According to Dr. Scott Schoefernacker of the DRONES Cluster, the VSA effort involves sending teams into the stream to document impairments using paper forms and digital photographs, which must be transcribed and entered into a database at a later time. “That’s not only expensive,” he says, “but also it takes months to complete.” Schoefernacker and fellow researcher Brian Waldron 17 have a better idea—drones. They are examining the application of commercially available multi-sensory unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to navigate streams, create photographs and maps, and identify impairments. “This could significantly reduce costs,” Shoefernacker says, “while speeding up the process.”

Robust and Anonymous Information Sharing among Autonomous Vehicles

Dr. Lan Wang

Bridging the Gap Between Virtual Reality and Real World Automated Navigation

Dr. Aaron L. Robinson, Ernest McCracken

Drone Imaging of Active Sand and Gravel Quarries to Optimize Exploration and Mining

Dr. Roy Van Arsdale, Dr. David Lumsden, Dr. Randel Cox, Dr. Youngsang Kwon, Dr. Andrew Mickelson

Engineering Materials for Battery: Nanowhiskered Oxide Electrodes

Dr. Sanjay Mishra

Light Weight Low Power Multi-sensing Technology for Extreme Conditions

Dr. Firouzeh Sabri, Dr. Steve Allison