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Aerospace in the Spotlight at AIAA Student Conference

The Sacramento California Student Branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) hosted a conference for Region VI. Invitations were sent to all student branches in the seven western United States.

The event took place at California State University at Sacramento (CSUS). The educational advisor for Region VI is Oleg Yakimenko, professor at the Naval Post Graduate School and Director of the Autonomous Systems Engineering and Integration Lab. Both aerospace professionals and university students who are working on projects related to aerospace made presentations. Topics ranged from space vehicle design to aerospace business portfolio analysis.

AIAA members are aiming for the stars.

One student presentation was of the SphereBot a flying device which operates on earth to facilitate safety in the work place. The SphereBot is an inspection robot platform designed to help remove, or at least reduce, the danger to power line personnel by performing hazardous inspections semi- autonomously.

The CSUS team developed SphereBot

Team member Rebecca Wingo who is working with Darrell Cahail, Robert Wortman, Aaron Diab, and Emmanuel Dupart explained the reason for their robot. The power lines that inspectors work on are over 100 feet in the air plus the lines continue to deliver power during the inspections. These conditions have resulted in many injuries and several deaths. More than 400 line inspectors died last year while working on the job.

The SphereBot is intended to save lives by reducing the need for humans to inspect power lines.

The team?s SphereBot is supposed to fly up to the power line and maintain its position as it flies down the line with a camera providing a visual inspection of the line. It consists of a frame which is lifted by counter-rotating propellers. Under the propellers a cylinder holds an Inertial Measurement Unit, or IMU, to give position feedback to keep the robot stable. There is an onboard micro-computer to control the system, a servo controller to control the servos which move the platforms which direct the robot, a camera for visual feedback, and a Lithium- Ion battery.

The project was split into two parts: the SphereBot and the Line Crawler. When Wingo joined the team she began to work on the second phase. She explained that the Line Crawler will be deployed by the SphereBot. Although still in the beginning prototype stage, it will have an IMU to sense the orientation of the line crawler on the line, an attachment system that will allow it to latch onto the line as the SphereBot moves it toward the line and provides the platform for cameras and other sensors. The data gathered would be stored onto an SD card for analysis on the ground.

Currently, the Crawler has a frame which can be placed onto the line with a Logitech HD camera mounted onto it. There is a Raspberry Pi which saves images to an SD card and another microcontroller along with a motor shield to control the motion of the Line Crawler. Wingo says if they can get the weight down on the Line Crawler and the SphereBot, one SphereBot would be able to drop multiple line crawlers onto a series of lines for faster data acquisition.

SphereBot team member Robert Wortman shows off their creation

CSUS Professor Russ Tatro is in charge of their Senior Design lab and the go-to person if a problem arises. Wingo was in the team discussions for getting a new carbon fiber frame built on the SphereBot at the beginning of the semester to the recent discussions about what they intend to do with the project after Senior Design ends. Some of the team members may convert the project into their Master?s projects. Wingo voices the team?s aspirations: ?We do hope to see the project move on to be used in the field it was originally intended for.? However she admits there is still a significant amount of work to be done on the project before it could be implemented.

Stephen Brock, attending from AIAA Headquarters, complimented the CSUS group on their first locally held conference saying that they had the highest turn out that Region VI has seen in years. There were 86 student attendees, 23 presentations, and almost 100 total attendees including faculty and guest speakers.

Evangelina Dubinetsky, current President and co-founder of the Sacramento Student Branch of AIAA in the fall of 2011 was one of the organizers of the local conference. Dubinetsky indicated that due to the success of the event three other schools are corresponding with her in an attempt to be next year?s host location. They are Arizona State University, University of Nevada, Reno, and University of California, Merced.

Membership in the organization is not restricted to those majoring in engineering, math, or science. However, Dubinetsky says actual membership does not include many students from other disciplines because the group is specifically focused on aerospace.

Wingo is an electrical and electronic engineering student focusing on control systems. From observing human behavior, a teenaged Wingo noticed some adults hated their jobs, some tolerated their jobs, and some loved their jobs. She decided to find a job she would enjoy. She determined the best way to do that was to talk to people about their work. ?I learned that most engineers loved their jobs, and I also learned that I really enjoyed talking to engineers about their work and they seemed to enjoy talking to me about my projects and research. So, I decided that I would become an engineer. Then, I learned that engineering paid well enough for me to change my field later and not get stuck as I had seen others do.? She advises: ?You should make sure your job offers a financial escape route after a few years if you hate it.?

Dubinetsky echoes Wingo: ?The only other thing I can say is that I am extremely fortunate to find something I am so passionate about. Life is too short to settle for mediocre, and the possibilities are endless! The more you learn about the universe, the more you find yourself asking questions than there are no answers to … yet!?

Dubinetsky is majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics, heading for an MS in Aerospace Engineering. She credits her grandfather with igniting her far reaching interests. ?I was interested in space exploration/vehicles since I was 4-5 years old, when my grandfather sat with me outside at night and talked about the stars. Since then, I have developed a deep passion for interstellar space exploration, commercial flights to space, the International Space Station, fusion, anti-matter, black holes, military fighter aircraft, traveling at the speed of light…basically anything that has to do with flight, outer space, and the universe.? This eclectic thinker has lofty ambitions; she wants to become an aerospace engineer and astronaut.

She admits that it can be difficult to be a woman in a male dominated field. She notes that few women take the classes she is enrolled in. She has been told that she doesn?t look like an engineer to which she replies: ?I wonder what an engineer is supposed to look like.?

Gerald Glasser, a veteran pilot of 11 different aircraft types including the SR-71 Blackbird, and a STEM¬†educational coordinator, told her, ?It is no longer a man’s world, don?t give up or let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do.? Dubinetsky concludes with: ?Regardless of the ignorant remarks I may sometimes receive, I hope to one day not be seen as a woman in engineering, but as a person in engineering, with the same goals and ambitions as everyone else.?

Wingo agrees. She reports running into very few roadblocks to being a female in engineering. ?There are a few challenges, and there are a few advantages Women think differently than men. Don?t let anyone tell you that is a bad thing though.? In her experience, she sees women as being able to change if something isn?t working and they can work on several things at once. She comments: ?Men tend to think lineally, working on one task or problem before moving onto the next. It can be annoying to them when I change between topics too rapidly.? She admits that the differences have led to some friction.

Still, Wingo emphasizes: ?I can honestly say I have yet to meet an engineer who looked down on me specifically for being a woman. On the contrary, a few of the women I have talked to in the industry have said to expect and accept doors that open because companies are looking for more women in the field of electrical engineering.?