Collaborative Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Background: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are currently the most dynamic growth sector of the international aerospace industry. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and other industry groups predict that in the next 3 to 4 years, more than 70,000 jobs will be created in the UAV area with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion. By 2025, that could increase to more than 100,000 jobs and an economic impact of $82 billion. While military uses such as intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (called ISR) are what people are most familiar with, civilian applications are increasing at a rapid rate and are predicted to eclipse military applications as the most promising areas for UAVs. These civilian applications include such things as aerial photography and cinematography, for which UAVs are already in wide use, to agricultural crop inspection and maintenance, wildlife monitoring and protection, land surveying, utility right-of-way inspection, fire fighting, disaster and emergency relief efforts, and search and rescue.


  1. Develop state-of-the-art hardware and efficient, modular software for autopilots for small UAVs
  2. Develop techniques and algorithms for multi-UAV collaborative teams
  3. Develop powerful, flexible payload data systems for small UAVs
  4. Validate the systems developed with accurate simulations and real-world flight testing

Key Elements: Digital system hardware and software design, implementation, and testing, actual field flight testing of UAVs, system documentation, team and project management.


  • Adapting the VCU-designed UAV autopilot system to control multirotor vehicles (commonly referred to as “drones” in the popular media)
  • Development of a tablet-based app to display critical vehicle information to the safety pilot during test flights
  • Development and testing of algorithms to allow teams of small UAVs (including fixed-wing and multirotor aircraft) to collaborate to solve a common task such as search and rescue, land and crop inspection, etc.
  • Development and testing of enhanced capabilities for the VCU entry in the 2016 AUVSI Student Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) Competition (

Team Advisors: Robert Klenke, Ph.D. (Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering), Tim Bakker, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral Research Associate, VCU UAV Lab), and Matt Leccadito (Graduate Research Assistant, VCU UAV Lab).

Project Partner and Sponsor:  The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust

Majors / Background: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Mechanical Engineering students with a strong desire to participate in the design, build, test of hardware and software systems.

Contact: Professor Robert Klenke (