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Six MIE Students Design Pest-controlling Drone for Their Senior Capstone Project

The Sprite drone, made by Ascent AeroSystems, being tested

A feature story written by Michael Connors in the April 8 Daily Hampshire Gazette looked at a group of six students from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department who are developing a drone for their senior capstone project that can deploy agricultural chemicals safely and very precisely to control pests such as mosquitoes. The students are teaming up with the Hampshire County Radio Controllers Club, a local group of remote-controlled flying vehicle hobbyists, who will give the MIE seniors hands-on training on how to operate drones.

The Gazette article explained that the students are designing their drone, when perfected, to fly fully autonomously on a specified path and release chemicals with very meticulous accuracy.

In the Gazette story, Ryan Smith, a UMass mechanical engineering student leading the project, said he was happy for the help that the radio controllers club was giving about drones.

“They also have taught us about the inner workings of drones such as batteries, GPS, and telemetry, which is vital in getting our system to work without any issues,” Smith said.

According to the Gazette, the drone will deploy a chemical called “Mosquito Bits,” a product that, when dropped in water, grows a bacteria to kill mosquito larvae. The chemical is harmless to people, pets, and other animals, a press release said.

Once the drone is empty, it returns to a docking station, where the container holding the chemical is switched out, refilled, and then reattached to the drone.

The Gazette noted that the engineering students hope their product will someday be used in flooded areas to help reduce mosquito-borne illnesses such as the Zika virus and malaria, the press release said.

“This system should allow for precision, automated application of granular fertilizers and other products throughout the agricultural industry,” Smith said. “It also could be of interest to municipalities and other groups looking to fight mosquitoes or other insects.”

Smith added that “We hope to complete our final proof of concept by the end of this semester and then test it at an actual farm in the fall. Overall, we hope that farmers and municipalities alike will get an easy-to-use system that can reduce overhead and hopefully be put to work fighting mosquito-borne illness and runoff pollution from agricultural chemicals.” (April 2018)