Engineering students introduce Auburn to a new bird

By Morgan Stashick, College of Engineering



Thad Roppel's electrical and computer engineering class recently "borrowed" the new Auburn indoor practice facility to conduct a test flight that might normally be seen inside Jordan-Hare Stadium by Auburn's own Nova. Instead, Roppel's students launched an ornithopter a robotic cardinal that operates via remote control. Robo Nova, as it has been dubbed, was on display for two years before students Jarred Beck, Brian Pappas and Emile Ewing brought it back to life.

Roppel's students resurrected the ornithopter during the summer after discovering it in a lab. Beck said he began working on it as a hobby, with hopes that it would fly again.

"The students fixed up the damaged parts, got the batteries charged and took off some extra weight," said Roppel.

The original student design project, which began in 2009, was inspired by Auburn electrical and computer engineering alumnus Charlie Stringfellow. His wife is an alumna of Ball State University, where the school mascot is a cardinal. At the Auburn-BSU football game in 2009, Stringfellow jokingly asked Roppel if he would build a robotic cardinal, but instead, he ended up funding the design project for Roppel's students.

The bird's parts were purchased from a kit and then altered to look like a cardinal. Enhancements like a GPS system and camera were added, as well as a microprocessor-linked gyroscopic sensor that can control pitch and yaw to achieve level flight without any correction from the joystick control pad.

"After that semester, it's been a static demonstration," said Roppel of the ornithopter. "We gave one of the birds to Mr. Stringfellow, and he has it in a display in his home. We're proud of that."

The ornithopter circled Jordan-Hare Stadium on a week day in 2009 for a series of test flights. If Roppel's students have their way, some day War Eagle VII may have a mechanical substitute, when needed, to soar above a cheering Auburn crowd on game day.

Last Updated: Sept. 9, 2011

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