Pegasus Project Takes Off

Jonathan Setiabrata | October 1, 2010

Earlier this year, some Yale undergraduates reported receiving a cryptic recruitment email about a student engineering group project involved in the design and testing of flying robots. This group, collectively known as the Pegasus Project, strives to pique the interest of the Yale undergraduate community in the field of aerial robotics by demonstrating the capability and potential of aerial robotics through competitions, demonstrations, and research.

Founded by Jonathan Hartman JE ’09 during his freshman year and supported by Yale Electrical Engineering Chair A. Stephen Morse, the Pegasus Project aims to compete in the International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC) in the summer after each school year. The IARC creates missions and objectives that the aerial machinery must be able to accomplish. Schools across the nation work on their robots during the school year and compete during the months of July and August. While past missions focused on the development of outdoor-sized aerial robots (nicknamed Pelican models) to complete certain tasks, this year’s mission emphasizes the development of more indoor-appropriate robots (nicknamed Hummingbird models) to achieve coordination systems capable of indoor-mapping, search and rescue, and object recognition.

With such complex and intricate objectives, the Project relegates responsibilities between three main departments: electrical, programming, and mechanical. Programmers work on developing the Hummingbird’s software systems. The aerial robots must eventually run autonomously to compete in the IARC, and programmers work on making the Hummingbird successfully autonomous to complete their mission objectives. Electrical engineers focus on the sensory and circuitry network and other general electrical elements of the robot. Finally, mechanical engineers design the physical structures for the robot, such as landing gears and mounts.

As of today, the Pegasus Project is working on the quadcopter-designed Hummingbird model. A quadrotor aircraft is a type of aircraft that derives its upward propulsion from its four rotors. This differentiates the aerial machinery of a quadcopter from more common fixed-wing aircrafts, such as commercial airplanes, in that the quadcopter achieves flight from the propulsion of its four rotors rather than the lift generated by the forward motion of fixed-wing aircrafts. According to Max Cutler TC’11, the Project suffered a devastating cut of corporate sponsorship in the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year; economic downturns prompted sponsors to pull out. This lack of funding greatly threatened the future of the Pegasus Project until Morse persuaded the Yale Engineering Board to supplement necessary funding. Due to the Yale Engineering Board’s generosity, the Project continues on today.

Dominic Kwok ES’13, an aspiring mechanical engineer, says that he joined the group because “there aren’t many opportunities for Yale undergrad science/engineering majors to further pursue applications of what they are learning in the co-curricular sense…the Pegasus project was one of these available options, though.” Says Cutler: “It’s a great place to learn about real-world applications of engineering concepts, sometimes even before you learn about them in class.”

To the many who may be intimidated by the level of complexity that comes with the Project objectives and missions, Cutler gives this advice for thought: “I came in as a freshman, knowing little about what the Project might require of me. If you’re willing to learn a little and stretch your mind a bit, it can definitely be rewarding and fun.” The Project has open lab times three times a week so the level of commitment is entirely up to each individual member. Even if electrical circuitry may not be your forte or if you find the idea of programming autonomous machinery absolutely daunting, the Pegasus Project may help you find a hidden talent in engineering design or renew your interest in the field. Cutler mentions that the group is trying to reach out to various engineering faculty members for possible contributions to the project. In that way, the Project is a great way to interact with eminent engineering faculty members at Yale.

The Project is not planning on entering the IARC competition in the summer of 2010, but with interested members and a strong commitment to the Project, the group hopes to compete in the summer of 2011. “It’s definitely going to rely on the future freshman, sophomore, and junior members to lead the team to a successful competition,” Cutler says. “Hopefully with enough initiative and hard work the team will be able to produce some pretty complex and technically impressive demos,” Kwok added. Just because the Project is not planning on competing this summer, however, does not mean they are not working hard on their own Hummingbird model this year—they hope to showcase their little flying wonders by the end of the year and potentially attract corporate sponsorship to fund their project once again.