Engineering students at the California Polytechnic State University and California State Polytechnic University recently demonstrated autonomous flight and geolocation with a pair of aerial and ground vehicles. The project, which was sponsored by Northrop Grumman, focused on three of that firm’s core capabilities: unmanned vehicles, sensors, and geolocation.

In the first year of the project (2011-2012), students were tasked with having the unmanned aerial vehicle provide an accurate geolocation solution to the ground vehicle through a transmission of coordinates and subsequent navigation. This year, the project was expanded to include a second unmanned aerial vehicle, which was tasked with dropping a bottle of water at a targeted location designated by the first aerial vehicle. As it did the first year, the autonomous ground vehicle navigated to the target and verified that the package--in this case, the bottle of water--had been delivered close to the target.

To prepare for the project, about 50 students enhanced a fixed-wing remote-control aircraft with sensors and a communications link. They also developed the second aerial vehicle, which had to be capable of carrying and releasing the water bottle. In the process, upgrades were made to the ground vehicle used the previous year. Northrop Grumman hopes to continue the project through the next academic year. In addition to providing supplies, the company designed the program’s curriculum. Northrop Grumman employee volunteers also served as mentors and provided a technical critique of the student-led design approach during a midyear project review.