seal  Purdue News

August 12, 2003

Purdue seniors build automated robotic airplane from 'off-the-shelf' equipment

Senior mechanical engineering students at Purdue University have designed, built and test flown a robotic airplane capable of flying over agricultural fields and taking pictures for later analysis of crop damage. The plane is programmed before takeoff to fly over certain locations and return to the airstrip by itself. The students also wrote the software needed to analyze the images and estimate crop damage.

The technology might be used in the future to help farmers quickly assess the impact of severe weather, such as flooding. The lightweight aircraft has a wingspan of about 10 feet and flies to locations using global positioning data and a special navigation system. Students built the plane with commercially available parts during an eight-week summer course taught by mechanical engineer John Nolfi, manager of the university's Product Engineering and Realization Laboratory.

Although robotic planes could have numerous commercial possibilities, their use has been limited largely to military applications in such aircraft as the Predator and Global Hawk, Nolfi said.

Nolfi can speak to journalists about the possible commercial applications of robotic aircraft.

CONTACT: Nolfi, (765) 496-7869,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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