Undergraduates of Loughborough University have to do a Group Design Project as part of their final year Aeronautical MEng degree. This year, with the help of Simon Howroyd a PhD student at the University, one of the groups were challenged to design and develop a UAV capable of searching for a person, in a Search and Rescue (SAR) mission. The team known as "Overwatch" have heavily modified a Skywalker X8 and used APM2.6 to create a stable camera platform capable of flying search missions.


The project goes beyond the typical hobbyist modelling approach and features heavy theoretical design and analysis including Computational Fluid Dynamics to assess the aerodynamics, backed up by wind tunnel testing. They have also done structural modelling to ensure a stiff structure in unforgiving weather conditions such as storms in mountainous areas which are hard to reach by rescuers en foot.

It is relatively short project, only spanning around 7 months, with all the undergraduates having no prior knowledge of UAVs or RC aircraft, so the learning curve has been steep! Factor this alongside working with unusual materials in this field such as Styrofoam and expanded polyolefin (EPO) and you have a great project to vastly improve the employability of the students in industry after graduation.

May 2014 sees the project come to a conclusion with a presentation and report due. Of particular interest the output of the system is a GPS location and photo of the person to be rescued. This is achieved by utilising a standard search pattern and onboard image processing of camera frames where Matlab code (recompiled as C code and uploaded onto a BeagleBone) makes decisions as to the probability of the subject being found in each frame.

We look forward to any comments you may have and we will post a complete report at the end of the project in a month or so.

UPDATE 11JUN14:  We made the ITV Central, and ITV Yorkshire 6'o'clock news here in the UK!


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Down facing camera - flight 1

Front facing camera - flight 2

Rear facing camera - flight 3 (with stall & spin)

45deg down facing camera - flight 4

Undergraduate Team:

James Baines - Systems hardware, image processing & prototype development
Sufal Basnyt - Image processing
Oliver Boldero - Prototype manufacture, materials & CAD
Alex Cook - Aerodynamics
Stephen Clarkson - Portability & prototype manufacture
Iain Forbes Brown - Aerodynamics & wind tunnel
Chris Hughes - Comms & swarm logic
Mudasser Iqbal - Prototype manufacture, structural design & catapult
Jitinder Johal - CONOPS, detection, FMECA
Phillip Loughlin - Systems hardware, powertrain & prototype development
Oliver Meager - Aerodynamics & CFD
Thomas Offord - Sense & Avoid
James Whitehead - Comms & swarm logic

Project Directing Staff:

Dr Gary Page - Senior CFD lecturer
Dr Chris Harvey - Structures lecturer
Dr Paul Cunningham - Materials & structures lecturer
Simon Howroyd - Pilot & UAV technical support, PhD researcher

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  • Article now updated to include the press release on the news. I will upload the presentation in due course

  • Just had the call from ITV, the article will be shown on the ITV Central News at 6, tonight. (UK)

  • ^ That was:, (from top to bottom)

    1. The Daily Post (New Delhi)
    2. The Asian Age
    3. The Hindu Business Line
  • It looks like we made an impact in India!  Some positive media about "drones"!We must be doing something right, more of this please in the community would be nice. Public perception of UAVs will change for the better!3701753251?profile=original



  • For anyone UK based, we will be on the news at 6pm on ITV on Monday (2nd June)!

    Just been filmed today, got some good flying in!

  • A worthy mission, and I wish I had been on such a fun project some years ago! Adding this blog post to a consolidated list of maker stories.

  • Very exciting! Looking forward to what these students bring to the SAR community in the future. Bravo!
  • What an ingenious way to modify the X8, did it fulfill your expectations.

    All the best for a successful conclusion to the project.

  • If you found this interesting do please click the diyd "Like" button just above the facebook like button. Makes me all happy inside! Feel free to share, edit and improve upon; all the youtube videos are creative commons licensed.

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