Wanted: One smart person to build open-source hexacopter for scientific needs at UCT

Get this right; we would have done it ourselves; we know we are smart enough for it. Just that – as much as we love coding – we hate science labs and all that go with them.

That is the only reason why we are letting this opportunity go.

Meh; we couldn’t fool ourselves either.

We are not that smart. Mechatronics, electrical engineering and computer engineering are subjects that give us as much joy as starring at the coronavirus ding cartwheels at our doorstep. Which means to say they give us chronic migraines.

But an opportunity has arisen at the University of Cape Town for interested undergraduate engineers in mechatronics, electrical and computer engineering to study for a Master’s Degree while building a custom open-source unmanned aerial vehicle platform that is specifically designed for scientific purposes.

This chance has been made available courtesy of the Linked Data Application Programming Interface for Networked Drones (LANDRS) Project, a programme funded by the Sloan Foundation, with the aim of building open-source tools for managing scientific data on drones through the use of web standards and linked data technologies.

“Researchers are increasingly making small Unmanned Aircraft Systems [sUAS] – aka drones – a standard platform for scientific data capture,” LANDRS says on its website. “As a nascent and emerging tool, the need for drone data management cyberinfrastructure has increased as adoption has grown. For the many reasons there is much to be gained by academia and society by meeting this need.

“This project is working to build open source, community driven, foundational data management cyberinfrastructure so as to enable drone data to be easily made FAIR (Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable).”

In other words, the project wants to build open-source software technologies that can process drone data and be available to anybody who needs them.

Hence; the call for a full-time student who will start immediately on the project, on a full scholarship with a monthly stipend thrown in.

“A common challenge encountered by most scientists is that off the shelf commercial drone platforms do not meet their scientific needs, however, building (and legally flying) a custom-built drone requires both an engineer and notable effort in passing appropriate but onerous regulatory steps.

“This project requires a student to design, build, and qualify a professional grade hexacopter (around the open-source autopilot Pixhawk Cube).”

Other key factors in this design will include:

  • Modularity to enable flexibility in configuration for various payload and flight requirements
  • Design of a custom and flexible ‘Science Instrument Mount’ to support mounting a range of common scientific instruments
  • Excellent documentation on build and use of the platform
  • Integration with the LANDRS toolkit. The resulting design will be published and licensed under free to use open-source licenses.

Suitable candidates are required to possess a documented set of mechanical, electrical, as well as software design skills listed on this document here.

And the last day for applications in April 16, 2021.


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