Rutgers club lets students build, fly their own remotely piloted aircraft
Building and flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is not something the typical Rutgers student would expect to do on campus, but the Rutgers University First Person View (RU-FPV) club teaches its members to do just that.
The purpose of RU-FPV is to educate the members about multirotors, a particular type of UAV that has more than two rotors and their many applications, said Lincoln Black, the club leader and a School of Arts sophomore. UAVs are aircraft that do not have a human pilot on-board, but are usually flown remotely.
“We will be focusing mostly on (first person view) aircraft,” he said. “All of the members will receive a hands-on experience on how to build, tune and fly FPV multirotors, (which we call quadcopters).”
The goal of the club is to assemble a team of dedicated and enthusiastic members interested in learning about this technology, he said. RU-FPV focuses highly on teamwork and the sharing of personal knowledge to benefit the members.
Once a certain skill level is reached, the club will be able to compete nationally in races and freestyle competitions.
“What I like about it the most is that students can come in without any prior knowledge about UAVs and learn all the necessary skills to be successful,” Black said.
RU-FPV is the only club at Rutgers that teaches student all the necessary skills needed to build a remotely-piloted aircraft from the ground up and fly it effectively enough to compete at national events, he said.
When Dianne Le, a School of Engineering junior, arrived at RU-FPV’s first meeting, she knew it was a place she belonged, she said.
“The members were quirky and nonjudgmental," she said. “I felt comfortable being myself there, despite being the only female in the group, (which) ultimately led me to persevere much more than I had ever expected to.”
Le’s favorite aspect of the club is the atmosphere, she said. When people are in a comfortable and relaxed space, they can work more effectively as a team.
These environments inspire personal growth, as well as teamwork, she said.
While the club is serious about building skills in a competitive environment, they are still actively helping each other out, Le said.
"It is nice that we have this competitive yet harmonious dynamic going on," she said.
Lack of funding has been limiting the club, she said. With a greater amount of funding, the group would be able to acquire more resources and equipment for building and practicing.
Le’s goal in the club is to continue learning, she said.
“It's one thing to learn aerodynamic and fluid mechanic concepts in class, yet it is an entirely different experience when these concepts are applied to projects built with your own hands,” she said.
The hands-on training, respectful and patient vibe of the members and the contributed support of the group makes the club unique, Le said.
Last semester, Le helped build the club’s first team quad, Cato.
“So many skills were learned and utilized, from soldering connections correctly, to rearranging the wires to maintain a clean aesthetic,” she said. “With machine shop experience, I'm excited to take my assembly skills gained from this club to design, machine and assemble my own quads in the future.”
Any airborne structure is amazing, Le said.
“I’ve always been in awe of the concepts of flight. Gravity is a natural force that holds us all towards the ground, but somehow we have figured out ways to defy these natural forces.”
It is brilliant how these flying structures were created, she said.
The very idea of flight inspires people, she said.
“The literary symbolism of flight signifying boundlessness, breaking barriers, or elevating one's self into a higher state of mind and life, is beautiful in how it intersects with these physical applications of flight,” Le said.
Le, who strives to be an artist in the future, said she fulfills this dream through her engineering studies.
"The way each part of a drone assembles together can be as riveting as individual brushstrokes that make up Van Gogh's paintings," she said. "The way that our drones dance through the air, leaving trails of LEDs, is like taking vibrant, long exposure shots in photography."
In the future, the club plans to partner with FPV racing teams in New Jersey to host events and compete within their team and with others, Black said.
“We may seem like nerdy engineering students piloting mini-planes, but I instead see a family of artists at RU-FPV,” Le said. “I want to continue to learn this craft so that when I master it, I can create art with it myself, while participating in a collective art-exchange in this group.”
Noa Halff is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.