Researchers Tackling the Future of UAVs with Self-powered Wireless Sensors

April 8, 2021
Split screen headshot of Wonbong Choi and Ifana Mahbub

College of Engineering

Two researchers at UNT Engineering are working to make drones last longer in flight without much required maintenance in between.

Materials science and engineering professor Wonbong Choi and electrical engineering assistant professor Ifana Mahbub have received $211,786 from the Department of Defense to develop a suite of self-powered wireless sensors and wireless interfaces for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The funding specifically pertains to new equipment and instrumentation acquisition and is provided to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions. The award is the result of a merit competition administered by the Army Research Office under policy and guidance of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD (R&E). The Army Research Office is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory.

“The future of UAV needs a low-powered and wireless system, and thanks to this funding and the Nanofabrication Cleanroom facility here at UNT, we will now have the capability to make such an innovative device,” says Choi. “It’s really quite exciting.”

The sensors will be used to detect the stress and strain of UAVs and could be used to monitor radioactivity in a contaminated area. A new mask aligner, a machine with high alignment accuracy and sophisticated exposure optics, will be used to develop the self-powered sensors with nano-antenna structures for wireless communication.

“The mask aligner will enable us to create an integrative energy harvesting circuit system at a small millimeter scale and sub-micrometer resolution, which would be ideal for UAVs to make them smaller and weigh less,” says Mahbub. “Of course, the system will also be wireless, making it possible for UAVs to better collect and transmit data wirelessly as opposed to how it’s being collected now.”

Both undergraduate and graduate students in Choi’s and Mahbub’s labs will have the opportunity to work alongside the researchers in the lab, gaining practical experience in circuitry design and UAVs.

“The efforts from this study will help diversify the workforce, encourage students to pursue advanced energy materials and energy systems, and its related career paths, and create new research and teaching opportunities for students in North Texas,” says Choi.