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IISc student team wins laurels in American Helicopter Society competition

  • The quad-rotor autonomous flying vehicle developed by the IISc students.

The quad-rotor autonomous flying vehicle developed by the IISc students.

Image credits: Prof Dineshkumar Harursampath

Dineshkumar Harurusampath is a Professor of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. 

Team Lakshya-IISc, a student team from the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has won laurels in the prestigious Student Design Competition conducted annually by the American Helicopter Society International. The team was adjudged the 'Best New Entry – Graduate Category' in a competition which witnessed participation by teams from the top universities in the world.

"It is indeed a proud moment and a wonderful experience to be recognised by the world's most renowned vertical flight society (AHS International) through this long-standing competition," says an elated Rajnish Mallick, who led the student team. Rajnish recently earned a PhD in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Science. Aerospace engineers denote helicopters by their ability to use rotary wings to fly vertically - unlike other aircraft, they can take off without having to race along a runway.

The American Helicopter Society, in association with major helicopter companies, has been conducting the Student Design Competition for more than three decades now. In each edition, the students are asked to submit their entries on an open design problem chosen by the organisers. The jury consists of experts from both the academia and the industry. This is the first time an IISc team entered the competition that is normally won by the top three helicopter schools of the USA. It's remarkable that Team Lakshya-IISc became the 'Best New Entry – Graduate Category' in its very first appearance, and brought laurels to the Institute.

“Personally for me, having graduated from arguably the best helicopter school in the world - Georgia Tech, the current situation is analogous to a dad taking greater pride in his kids' achievements than his own!” says a proud Dineshkumar Harursampath, Professor of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science. Four students from his NMCAD Lab joined hands with complementary labs in IISc, and formed a formidable team. The team was ably guided by Profs. Harursampath, Ganguli & Omkar and supported by two technical consultants from the Indian industry.

The challenge thrown at the students is rather simple to understand: design an uninhabited small helicopter system that can deliver packets to customers in urban settings. The system had be able to carry stuff weighting up to 10 kg, and deliver it to the right customers in an urban area that is almost ten times as big as Bengaluru. There were quite a few operational constraints too. As Abhiram D. R., co-Team Lead & NMCAD Lab PhD student, says, “The noise level had to be lower than a prescribed limit, and the carbon footprint had to be minimal. Last but not least, the aerial vehicle had to manoeuvre carefully enough to avoid collisions with buildings or getting entangled with the electrical wires".

Team Lakshya-IISc tackled the problem with two types of vehicles - a conventional helicopter UAV to deliver heavier packages and a quad-rotor to deliver lighter packages. If you are wondering what a quad-rotor is, remember that flying thing in the movie 'Three Idiots.' The unmanned vehicles, partly powered by the energy extracted from the oscillations of the blade had a significantly lower carbon foot print than those powered fully by fossil fuels.

MultiFun, the technology for harvesting energy from blade vibrations is developed by the NMCAD lab, and the lab is in the process of securing the intellectual property rights.

“Our design approach voluntarily supported green aviation, as it used multifunctional composite materials to harvest energy from blade oscillations present in the rotor blades of the aerial vehicles,” says Shashank Agrawal, a PhD student of NMCAD Lab who was part of Team Lakshya-IISc.

Prof. Harursampath sees this as a beginning to something bigger (in fact, literally smaller!) and better. “Our proposal constituted various novel concepts which have immense potential to solve many pressing problems of the future. We do plan to take forward these ideas for the benefit of our country and look forward to developing them further for defense and civil applications,” he says.