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BYU electrical engineers play defense for U.S. government

With their high-flying photo and video capabilities, personal hobby drones are more popular than ever.  But how do you ensure that these fun, inexpensive Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) don’t become a threat to national security?   

That’s the question the U.S. Department of Defense hoped to answer with Perseus III, a research, design, build and demonstrate project that encouraged undergraduate students to explore technologies to counter potential threats posed by UAVs. 

A team of 28 BYU electrical and computer engineering students worked on the project for two semesters as part of their senior design experience. At the end of winter semester, they presented their solutions at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. 

“The BYU team’s technical approach to the demonstration was outstanding. I also commend the outstanding faculty leadership provided by Dr. Randy Beard and Dr. Karl Warnick,” said Earl C. Wyatt, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, in a letter to BYU President Kevin Worthen.  “The Brigham Young Perseus team should be proud of the hard work, dedication and technical prowess they demonstrated during Perseus III.”  

The BYU students were divided into a red team and a blue team. The objective of the red team was to use a drone to image an asset on the ground. The blue team’s objective was to stop the red team from acquiring those images, using non-kinetic means. The blue team solution included the development of a software defined radio that detected RC signals from the red team, and then intercepted the RC channel by rebroadcasting portions of the signal. 

Devon Lawless, a team leader on the project who graduated from BYU in April, learned just as much about team work as UAV technology. 

“I learned a lot about organization skills and communication,” he said. “I would definitely say that open, honest, upfront communication is the biggest key to helping everything flow a lot quicker.”

Faculty advisor Randy Beard, professor of electrical engineering, was impressed with the students’ approach to the problem and with how well they represented BYU.

“This project was an exceptional senior design experience for the students involved,” Beard said. “They were given a very specific set of objectives, but complete latitude on the solution to the objectives. The students had to combine creativity, technical skills, and project management skills to address a very challenging problem, with a defined budget, and within an aggressive schedule. The students were exceptional from both a technical and professional point of view, but also as ambassadors for BYU.”

 

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