I spent this summer as an undergraduate researcher under my flight dynamics and controls professor. The project involved developing a linear control scheme to provide flight stability for a UAV quadrotor using an uncertainty and disturbance estimator. I began the project with literature collection and review, and after I narrowed the many papers down to just a few, my professor and I created a problem formulation. Under his guidance, I was then able to develop the characteristic equations to describe the flight dynamics. I will continue the research project through the school year.
This research project benefitted me in a way that my education otherwise would not have. I am generally an open-minded person, and I have many areas of interest. My original plan for the summer was to obtain an internship, but this did not work out, and I had to find another productive way to spend the summer. I contacted my professor and developed a plan to start research, and found that I liked it much more than I expected. The project allowed me to explore an area of my aerospace engineering education in depth, and what I discovered about myself and the career world was that if you approach a task with an open mind, you can find value and meaning in it. Furthermore, something can be very enjoyable even if it isn’t exactly what you hoped for.
The research project began with a long literature collection process. This entailed finding relevant research papers, published by journals from groups such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. This was a somewhat painstaking process, but I learned a lot about the experimental technologies in the field of control systems and flight. When going through these papers more thoroughly, I learned a lot about different control methodologies and what the primary goals are among controls researchers.
The following step was to thoroughly read and understand the most relevant research papers I chose to focus on and learn some material outside of the standard curriculum. This involved learning certain methods from my professor and some supplementary materials he gave me as well as discovering things on my own online, such as from the MathWorks Documentation site and forum. This also included reading MATLAB codes written by other people (sometimes in a similar context to what I was working on), which gave me a lot of insight into more complex coding strategies.
The bulk of the project was computational, and this was the primary transformative aspect of the experience for me. Although I approached the project with eagerness and some excitement, the computational aspects were very fun for me. I wrote code to linearize the flight equations and develop stability matrices, and then used those to find more stability characteristics. For example, one potential goal is to minimize the amount of computational strain involved in calculating the individual rotor speeds of a quadrotor necessary for stable flight. Another is to maintain stable flight using as few different sensors as possible to save weight and cost. I coded to find the stability characteristics under these different conditions in several ways, including using my professor’s Qualitative Stability method.
This allowed me to learn my professor’s own research material directly from him, which was a great experience. However, the main thing that I took away from this project was that I learned that I can find meaning in a larger variety of tasks than I thought. In this project, it came down more to the practical, day-to-day tasks than the general application. UAV controls are interesting to me, but what made the project enjoyable was that I could unleash my creativity by coding and doing computational analysis as well as find new computational methods and coding techniques.
Since I actually did my STEP experience the semester after my Junior year, this experience was particularly beneficial. I will be graduating in May, and last summer was my most recent opportunity to get an experience like this. Additionally, what I discovered about the things I enjoy and can succeed in will make a large impact in the jobs that I seek. I know my own preferences and skills much better, and I feel that I am now more qualified to decide what job is best for me after college.