Monday April 24, 2017

Engineering's Leonardo Enterprises Funds Drone Equipped to Deliver Emergency Aid

By Kelly Garrow, School of Engineering

Two years ago, while laying on a beach in Belize, senior mechanical engineering technology major, Gonzalo Perez, had an idea for a “rescue robot” to help extinguish fires.

That idea evolved into a drone specially equipped to deliver aid to people in emergencies.

With the mentorship of School of Engineering Dean Eddy Rojas and the financial backing of Leonardo Enterprises, Perez has built a fully-functioning prototype that can deliver a five pound payload up to a mile away.

According to Rojas, there is nothing like the $7,000 drone in the marketplace. The prototype features a water-tight compartment that can carry medication, water or even a defibrillator to a person in need. It also has a camera with a microphone and two-way speaker to allow rescuers and victims to communicate and exchange information or instructions.

While the current prototype is radio controlled and has weight and other limitations, Perez already has plans to upgrade the motors and guidance system. He plans to incorporate 4G LTE technology for better range and more powerful motors to increase payload size to 20 pounds.

He has reached out to emergency management officials in Ohio, who have expressed interest in the concept, and hopes to present his prototype soon.

A native of Argentina, Perez spent a semester studying at the University’s China Institute during his sophomore year. He credits that experience with developing his entrepreneurial mindset. “I liked the corporate environment and all the visits we made to companies located in Suzhou Industrial Park.” Perez said. “It inspired me.”

Perez’s drone idea became a pilot project of Leonardo Enterprises, a business incubator to be run within the School of Engineering that will provide seed money and business mentoring to students with product ideas. The plan is to raise funds from corporate sponsors and utilize the talents of a board of business professionals to help students bring ideas from classroom to marketplace.

To date, Perez’s project has proved to be a good test of current University systems.

“We’ve learned that there is very little help available for students who wish to file for patents,” Rojas said. “Working with Gonzalo has shown me there are some structural changes we need to make in the way we provide services to young entrepreneurs.”

One thing students can count on is support from faculty and staff. “The willingness of faculty to provide advice and the support from the Innovation Center have been excellent,” Perez said.

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