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One of the feats behind aerial photography—particularly drone photography—is the balance needed from both skills to capture a beautiful shot. In other words, half the trick of getting the shot is the piloting necessary to get to the shot. 

One senior design team, advised by Prof. Li Bai and Prof. Brian Thomson, is working on a solution to help lessen the burden on drone flight to help photographers chart a path for their drone ahead of time. Less pilot, more plotting, according to the team: Miguel Acosta Del Vecchio, Ahmed Hamza Alhusseini, Zenon Matychak and Paul Thorpe. 

"There is a little bit of a learning curve in flying a drone. We want to create simple flights plans that the drone can follow so the consumer can just worry about what really matters," said Paul Thorpe, an engineering major and member of team 40. "Ideally, the drone would automatically fly to the position, and you can just worry about taking the photo."

Currently, regulations continue to catch up to the growing consumer drone industry, with nearly 855,000 drones registered in the United States and more than 267,000 remote pilots certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. States and municipalities continue to update their own regulations surrounding consumer and hobbyist flight, as well. 

The team's plan was to home in on less-experienced pilots, particularly given the current cost of drones. 

"If you're not an experienced pilot and you crash your drone on your first flight, you could potentially lose a drone that costs a couple hundred dollars," added Miguel Acosta Del Vecchio, another team member. "We're hoping that we can create a drone capable of flying itself to the correct locations according to the given flight plan and take pictures or record videos accordingly. If you're on vacation, or it's a company that wants to do survey work, they should be able to pick up the drone and start surveying land, for example." 

Stopping short of creating a consumer product, the team hopes to instead produce a proof of concept-but like any group project, there were some roadblocks. 

"It was difficult to start the project from scratch and consolidate as a team over Zoom. We all created proposals, drafted designs completely online and we only just met this year in-person," added Zenon Matychak, another team member.

Through supply chain and other product availability issues, the team is looking forward to presenting their work in April alongside other senior design teams. 

"There is a lot of active learning and understanding needed of the individual and collective components, so when something isn't working properly you can solve the problem," Acosta said, before Matychak echoed those sentiments. 

"A lot of unexpected things can go wrong, we just have to be patient and creative to solve them," Matychak said. "However, when a component in the drone malfunctions it could take weeks before we get the necessary component to solve the problem, so we would have to stop and say 'alright, we'll keep trying next week.'"