Drones have been around for almost as long as there have been aircrafts, from its initial creation being intended for military use only. With new advancements in technology, drones are now accessible to the general public and are gaining popularity for their multiple uses. It is now also possible to make cost-effective drones that serve various purposes, including delivering parcels and taking aerial photographs.

 

Recognising the need for low cost, durable drones in the market, 53 students who are currently pursuing their Third Year in the Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering programme at INTI International University (IIU) Nilai were recently tasked to design and develop a multi-purpose drone to be judged by industry experts, as part of their Engineering Design Project (EDP).

Over the course of two semesters, the students had to conduct market research into this growing industry and design the frame structure using the facilities available on campus. INTI’s fabrication lab (INTI FabLab) served as a haven for the students, as they had access to numerous technologies including 3D printing, laser cutting, the CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and ANSYS finite element simulation software to create their designs. To make the project unique, the students were tasked to ensure that the drones weighed less than 250 grams, to be able to fly for more than 10 minutes, must be equipped with a camera that could capture photographs and stream live videos, and had to be equipped with an additional feature of their choice. All the parts were fabricated in INTI’s FabLab, except for electronic components and Li-Po batteries that were purchased within the budget of RM500 to RM800.

Some interesting features which the students integrated into their drones included Wi-Fi signal strength detectors, “advertising in the sky” options, sound detectors, GPS, parcel delivery and even gas detectors.

 

At the end of the project, the students gathered to present their drones to a panel of judges, comprising of lecturers from the Faculty of Engineering and Quantity Surveying (FEQS) and two guests of honour from the industry: Mr. Abdul Shakir from The Formula 1 STEM Challenge Malaysia, and Mr. Zulkarnain A. Nawani from SKF Bearing Industries (M) Sdn. Bhd. In the end, the winners were Chan Wah Biao, Gan Zhi Yeong, Lim Ming Tak and Cho Jing Fung who greatly impressed the judges with their drone whose additional feature is the ability to drop light deliveries such as lifebuoys for search and rescue missions, and walked away with IT gadgets as prizes.

Three of the participating students were also given the opportunity to intern at a local Artificial Intelligence-driven drone company named FourFang Sdn. Bhd., competing against other varsity students for the coveted internship opportunity.

Dr Lai Yin Ling, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Quantity Surveying explained the rationale behind the project, “Creativity is essential for all engineering activities, to find solutions for complex problems and to improve or even create new concepts for everyday life. By encouraging the students to explore their creativity now, not only do we make our programmes more engaging and interesting, but we also provide the students with the foundation to think like innovators, and that prepares them for careers as engineers in the future.”

This follows the success of Chan Wah Biao, along with fellow students Sunder Raj Sundara Murthy, Vinod Krishnan K Arvindra Dass and Tushentan Ravishandran, who successfully developed a robot with built-in Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the purpose of keeping recreational parks clean by picking up and sorting out garbage for recycling. They competed at the Laureate Award for Excellence in Robotics Engineering at Universidade Salvadore (UNIFACS), Brazil in early 2017 and proudly won second place.

Wah Biao shared, “I am truly blessed to be given many opportunities to explore and express my creativity as an engineering student. Those opportunities also made me realise that acquiring technical skills can only get me so far. So in the past three years, I have also learned to harness my problem-solving skills to create solutions, and more importantly, to learn to be an effective team player. I am buoyed by my passion for innovation and I truly believe that with improved efforts, engineering can make the world a better place to live in and benefit societies, and I would like to be part of that effort.”

Associate Professor Ir. Dr. How Ho Cheng, who accompanied the students to Brazil and also campaigned the EDP, said “The two invited guests of honour were impressed with our showcase of innovation excellence. The EDP has helped our students to foster creativity in engineering environments, conduct research and identify how they can apply innovative solutions to problems. I am pleased to witness the growth of our students, as they are able to meet the demands of the engineering profession, to design new products and hopefully, they will go on and improve existing products for the benefit of humankind in the near future.”

INTI’s engagement with the industry and its focus on industry-relevant curriculum adequately prepares its graduates to be highly sought after by employers, as its 2016 Graduate Employability Survey shows that 99% of its graduates are employed within 6 months of their graduation, 83% of its graduates are paid higher than the market average and 43% of its graduates obtain job offers even before they graduate. These figures are validated by the audit firm, BDO, making INTI the only institution of higher learning to vouch for its graduate outcomes.