bell tower

Picture yourself as a prospective student, or the parent of one. Orienting yourself to Temple’s campus has always involved a map, particularly for campus tours. However, one senior design team is re-imagining wayfinding for campus tours using autonomous drone flight. 

“A lot of times on campus I’ll see people staring at the map. If they’re looking for a while, I try to stop and help them but, it’s not ideal,” said James McHugh (ECE), one the team’s members. 

Their solution is also the focus of their senior design project: an autonomous tour drone to navigate Temple’s campus.

“A user would use a smartphone app to summon the drone to their location and specify where they want to go: like the engineering building, SERC, anywhere on campus. The drone would then navigate using sidewalks and approved means of transportation. It would navigate and avoid obstacles and show them how to get there,” McHugh added. 

Does that mean current students will see a sky full of buzzing tour drones soon? Not quite.

“The current FAA license classifies the team as a hobbyist, added Jessica Cohen (ECE), one of the team members. That means if Temple took over, it’s certainly a different designation. 

“One of the major obstacles is that autonomous drones need to be constantly monitored by someone with a transmitter, someone to take it over in case something goes wrong,” McHugh added, noting that the team has been in contact with Temple’s Risk Management department throughout their project. 

That’s another piece of senior design that has sprouted up: partnership across disciplines and management skills. 

“This is the first time we’ve had to take this much into account: logistics, FAA clearance and having the managerial aspects involved,” Jonathan W Szynal (ECE), another member pointed out.

The team hopes the project will continue until regulations and practical use catches up, or the technology is adopted in other areas. 

“Autonomous drone navigation in urban environments is a bit under-researched. People have done GPS navigation above the city for drones, but to the point where you have to specifically stay on the sidewalk,” McHugh added. “We could see it adopted in a different form or for something like disaster relief.” 

See the team’s drone during Senior Design Presentation Day on April 27, and watch the video below to see what Senior Design means for Temple Engineering students.