Dr. Zhang already had an ongoing relationship with Quanser through a Strategic Project Grant (SPG) supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), for which Quanser is one of industrial supporting organizations. With Quanser’s responsive team of engineers, he was able to make significant progress in addressing his ongoing challenges.
“I visited Quanser two years ago and learned about the systems they were developing for my field. I could see that I did not have to waste time and resources building my own teaching and research tools” he said.
Of special relevance to Dr. Zhang was Quanser’s Qball-X4, a 1.4-kilogram quadrotor helicopter protected by a carbon fibre cage and designed for indoor use. He saw its research capabilities, but also its great value in the classroom as a hands-on learning tool in his flight control courses.
“The purpose of my undergraduate Flight Control Systems course is to teach students the concept of flight and flight dynamics, as well as how to design an autopilot,” said Dr. Zhang. The Qball would be perfectly suited for teaching, especially in an enclosed space like the lab. In fact, it would be most likely the first time any quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was used in the classroom.
“Prior to having Quanser’s Qballs, we spent a lot of time in this course dealing with unmanned fixed wing aircraft,” described Dr. Zhang. “But testing our work out on real fixed wings models wasn’t practical indoors and often wasn’t feasible outdoors because of weather challenges or insufficient open space. The Qball type of helicopter is perfect because it can get a full workout in our indoor, and relatively small, lab environment. The Qball’s safety cage makes all the difference: the helicopter, the lab and the students are all protected and safe.”
What’s more, there was the ability of Quanser’s QUARC control design software to work seamlessly with the Matlab/Simulink- based flight control software that students were already using. As Dr. Zhang put it, “Being able to work with tools students are familiar with, like Matlab/Simulink, is much more convenient and efficient for developing, implementing and testing different controls, and not only controls, but navigation and guidance too.”
“The people at Quanser were a great support to me technically, but they also had extensive knowledge of funding sources and processes, and experience as advisors on the preparation of funding requests,” continued Dr. Zhang. He proposed to his department buying the Qball helicopter from Quanser, but financing was an issue. “With Quanser’s support, I was able to make a strong case for the Qball’s value as both a teaching and research tool that would allow me to bring our latest research outcomes through the NSERC SPG project into course teaching.”
Dr. Zhang excited the department and faculty, showing them that instead of relying on just text book theory and videos, students would be able to actually test out their work by flying an actual helicopter. “In the end, the faculty recommended that we share the Qballs with another department at the university and approved the funding,” said Dr. Zhang.