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A dream realized

Our team’s second iteration drone for the Argonia Cup competition, Cuddlefish derives its name from her predecessor: Kraken. This design had many of the same features – spring-loaded arms with foldable props and a cylindrical frame design allow the drone to condense into the five inch payload compartment of the Gemini rocket designed by Missouri S&T’s Rocket Design Team. After a launch at 12Gs and 20 second ascent to 9000 feet, Cuddlefish was able to detach from the rocket and safely return the payload home.


The most noticeable design change from Kraken was the release mechanism. The hardware team developed a hook & latch system powered by a servo motor to give the pilot control over when to let go of the rocket and begin the descent journey. Our unique design and well-engineered semiautonomous systems also allowed us to be the only team capable of an immediate relaunch using the same equipment. While most of our competition brought a separate drone and rocket for each flight attempt, the Missouri S&T team only brought one of each and were able to rely on the system to be fully recoverable with no repairs backups.


Two flights were made by the Gemini/Cuddlefish system. The first presented challenges that we had not anticipated in the design stage. After the initial launch and deployment of the drone, the pilot noted that he was slowly losing visibility through the First Person View equipment. The rapid temperature change at altitude was causing condensation to form on the lens of the camera and obscure his vision. A secondary problem presented itself shortly thereafter: one of our built-in safety systems wasn’t prepared for the rapid change in GPS altitude, and falsely declared that the drone had received critical damage. This protocol enables a forced decent to ground level while still giving the pilot some control over the direction of flight. The forced decent caused Cuddlefish to land 0.76 miles from the target – a respectable score but not the one we had set out to achieve.


Following the initial flight, the safety features were adjusted to account for the rapid ascent. However, the condensation issued was solved by our engineers in a much more creative way. The team did not have access to any defogging agents or temperature control, so time was spent gathering and testing various substance that could be smeared on the camera to prevent condensation from forming. The winner: Complementary hotel shampoo. The substance was applied to the lens prior to the second flight and prevented any additional condensation from forming for the rest of the trip.


The stakes were even higher for the second launch. After a smooth deployment the team successfully guided Cuddlefish down 9000 feet to point just 12.5 inches from the target, exactly as it was engineered to do. This landed us in second place at the end of the competition behind a 10 inch score by another university. This was the first year any teams had been closer than half a mile from the target.

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