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York College Engineering students build drone to help farmers

The York College Engineering drone team is learning a great deal of information that will help the farmers and the environment, while gaining valuable experience, one student says.

When most people think of drones, they think of technology and fun, or perhaps video and photography.

Safe to say, few people would think about farming.

However, a group of students from York College of Pennsylvania have been building a drone that will not only help local farmers but the environment, as well.

“It was a surprise, and that is why I wanted to do the project,” says Samantha Gotwalt, a senior Mechanical Engineering major at York College. “Since high school, I knew I wanted to go into the engineering field. I never thought I would go into the drone aspect of engineering. It’s definitely something new to me.”

Blayde Reich, another senior Mechanical Engineering student on the project, also found the work to be quite intriguing.

“When people think of farms, they think of old tractors and stuff like that. This is high tech,” he says.

Technology helps in several ways

Although it’s a usage few may consider, for Samantha and Blayde, learning while helping such a crucial industry was important.

According to Samantha, the idea came from a York College professor, who has worked with drones in the past, and wanted to get students involved with a project beneficial to the community.

Blayde says the crew easily bought into the concept.

“We really want to help farming and agriculture. It’s super-important to America and our economy,” he says. “We want to help the smaller farmers, and the one of the perks is not having to spend their money on fertilizer and pesticides. It kind of makes life easier down the road.”

The idea is to design and build a drone that will take video imagery of the fields to determine what is needed to produce the best crop, while saving money and sparing the environment by reducing pollutants in the water runoff.

“The less chemicals they put in the fields, the less filtering the water company has to do,” Blayde added. “We get our data from the sky and the information is GPS-based that comes with coordinates.”

Ideally, that data gained can be plugged into equipment that will help the farmers better determine what chemicals they need – and what they don’t.

Enjoyment with a challenge making it work

Being able to fly a drone is certainly a fun experience for many, and the learning aspect was something Samantha enjoyed. York College made sure the students were well prepared for taking flight.

Samantha says their professor took the group to an airfield used for flying drones and remote-control planes. Of course, they learned some of what they needed to know ahead of time.

“A lot of it was to learn the stability of the plane,” Samantha says. “York College has a simulator that you use the transmitter to practice flying without doing any damage to the plane. That was helpful, so that we were prepared for the real thing.”

However, finding the right equipment for the project was a challenge, starting with what drone the team would design for this particular usage. Samantha says she researched durability and control of drones to help make the proper determination.

“We are flying over the field and we want to have enough efficiency and go relatively slow enough that our pictures turn out well – and fly low enough that it is not using up all of its power,” she says. “The fields are a couple hundred acres, so you need your drone to be able to fly the length of that field.”

The team bought a drone “kit” that would give the group the ability to build a prototype based off the design.

A great experience project for budding engineers

Blayde says the team continues to learn a great deal of information that will help the farmers and the environment, while gaining valuable experience.

The prototype of a blunt-nose versa wing – that needs just the right modifications to work just the right way – can be a labor of love.

“A lot of people, when the come to college, switch majors a few times. I always had a passion for Engineering and was one of those that didn’t switch,” says Blayde.

With projects such as this, he and the others are glad to be Engineering students at York College.