With LiDAR and Drones, Chapter Embraces Interdisciplinary Projects

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SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects

With LiDAR and Drones, Chapter Embraces Interdisciplinary Projects


Rachel Barron, Ingenium LiDAR Project Manager and former SPS Chapter President, and Kyle Duke, Ingenium Coordinator and Drone Project Technology Manager, Wheaton College

Curtis McLennan, a member of the drone team, holds an assembled 3D-printed drone frame while looking at pricing for sonics sensors. Photo by Sarah Rutt.“How can we bring the physics and engineering departments together?” This was the question our SPS cabinet members had in mind as we pondered ways to build community, provide opportunities to gain hands-on skills in specialized areas, and further our chapter’s networking and career preparation objectives.

One opportunity rose to the forefront immediately. A project-based engineering club, Ingenium, had gone dormant due to the overhead needed to run it. SPS decided to revive the club, so we combined our two cabinets and made it a goal to take on projects that connect physics and engineering students. These projects come as requests from other departments, so our members learn how to break down communication barriers between colleagues with different skill sets.

Each project has two faculty advisors: an engineering advisor and a faculty member from the department requesting the project. This way the project groups can learn the language of the requesting department but still be supported on the technical side. Additional departments may also be represented on a project as needed. Having such interdisciplinary teams has expanded our ideas and shaped our successes.

For a project requested by the archaeology department, for instance, Ingenium students are developing a ground-based LiDAR (light detection and ranging) system to provide continuity in archaeological data collection. A drone project, requested by the math department, focuses on frame design, electronics, and integrating flight-pattern algorithms into our drone-control system (QGroundControl). Members are currently working on minimizing errors as the drone flies in a calculated path. Says Caleb Maue, an engineering student on the drone project, “Ingenium helps prepare students for future work, giving them an insight into how engineering projects operate.”

When our school transitioned to remote learning in the spring of 2020, we had to consider the impact this would have on Ingenium. The drone project required hands-on mechanical work, and although the LiDAR project had the potential to be completed remotely, other factors prevented us from being able to continue work during the spring semester. Thankfully, the fall semester brought us back to campus in person, allowing us to continue both projects. We implemented precautionary measures in accordance with Wheaton College’s COVID-19 policies, conducting socially distanced meetings, recording attendance for contact tracing, following reduced room capacities, and sanitizing equipment.

As we look forward to growing the club, we are encouraged by one member’s enthusiastic feedback. “Ingenium has been a great experience for me,” says physics student Curtis McLennan. “I have loved working with the people [involved] and having hands-on experiences. It is [an] opportunity that I think everybody should take advantage of.”

 a Velodyne rotating LiDAR sensor, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), and a Raspberry Pi. In this image, students are working from multiple computers to set up the internet for the Raspberry Pi and learning how to use a SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) algorithm in a COVID-safe environment. Photo by Trevor Gilkerson.

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SPS Chapters on Hands-on Projects