Long-range wireless networks of small, low-cost, and low-power sensors are needed to study Earth’s climate from both the atmosphere and space. The Mapleseed project aims to develop a passive (i.e., free-falling) wireless in-situ sensor platform inspired by the natural aerodynamic performance of samara seeds for use in detailed sensing of various properties of Earth’s atmosphere.

As part of this faculty research team, students will be exposed to an entire end-to-end design process, including background research, concept generation, simulation, prototyping, and validation by experiment both in the laboratory and the field. New members starting in Winter 2020 will join the current effort to refine the developed technology as well as to demonstrate the wireless, environmental sensing, localization and wind tracking capabilities of a small cluster of free falling mapleseed flyers in field tests in Earth’s lower atmosphere. Students will have the opportunity to build, adapt, and operate advanced drone systems and be involved in field tests. Students develop a number of very small wireless circuit boards (using TI cc1310 radio) along with 3D printed airframes.

Meeting time and location:

For academic credit, our MDP course is classified as a hybrid course but will mainly meet remotely, following university public health informed guidelines. In the past, our team has typically met at Thursdays at 4pm to 6pm in the GG Brown Building, but each subteam can finalize a best time to meet via BlueJeans video conference (distance synchronous communication) for this semester. A two-term commitment will begin January 2021.

Team organization:

Each of the three Mapleseed subteams has a team leader that reports to and meets with the faculty PI. The teams are flexibly structured to enhance creativity and opportunity for student growth. We work in a GG Brown lab. We have the following project teams: Electronics, Mechanical, Software/Coding, and some ad hoc functional teams.

More information

First-year undergraduates through masters graduate students are welcome to apply, and all will be encouraged to stay on the team for more than the two-semester minimum. Leadership roles are available in the lab, and experienced students will be a natural fit for these positions as their knowledge grows over time.

Electronics Subteam (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Antenna design, impedance matching, RF circuit design/PCB layout in Altium Designer, experience using anechoic chamber, network analyzer, embedded hardware and software, experience with oscilloscope, spectrometer, ADS, data link budgeting, wireless network design, DSP, software-defined radio, GNU radio, C/C++, Python, GPS/dGPS

Likely Majors: Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering

Software/Coding Subteam (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Embedded system design, experience with wireless network design (connection-oriented, connectionless, P2P), real-time operating systems, leading software project(s), C/C++, Python, Windows/Linux

Likely Majors: Computer Engineering, CS (All)

Mechanical/Aerodynamics Subteam (6 Students)

Preferred Skills: Design, 3D printing, Solidworks, Aerodynamics

Likely Majors: Mechanical Engineering, Art & Design

Apprentice Researcher (4 Students)

Preferred Skills: Interest in project material, willingness to develop skills. Open to first-year and second-year undergraduate students ONLY.

Likely Majors: Any

Faculty Sponsor

Xiaogan Liang
Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Dr. Liang designs research sensors at several scales to improve our knowledge of the atmosphere, manufacturing and biochemical systems. His research focuses on nanolithography in combination with bottom-up methods for assembling and tailoring nanomaterials into functional device architectures, aiming to surpass the capability of state-of-the-art approaches and enable future scalable manufacturing of nanoscale systems. His lab explores new applications in energy technology, nanoelectronics, nanofluidics, biosensors, and photonics. With training in physics and electrical engineering, Dr. Liang has a passion for exploring the capacity of drones in research. He received an NSF CAREER award and is the winner of the 2019 Monroe-Brown Foundation Education Excellence Award, recognizing his dedication to his students.

Students: 18-21

Likely Majors: ME, Art & Design, EE, CE, CS (All), Any

Summer Opportunity: Summer research fellowships may be available for qualifying students.

Citizenship Requirements: This project is open to all students on campus.

IP: Students who successfully match to this project team will be required to sign an Intellectual Property (IP) Agreement prior to participation in January 2021.

Course Substitutions: Honors