FDU collaborates with Bergen County Technical Schools on autonomous drone

FDU’s Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies is collaborating with Bergen County Technical Schools (BCTS), Teterboro, on a cutting-edge project to develop a drone that can navigate a building autonomously. Over the last year, a team comprised of Nicolas Elefther and Matthew Sarisky, both instructors from BCTS, and Sai Sankar, the research coordinator for STEM at Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies, have been working together to design and build a prototype.

drone developers
From left to right: Sai Sankar from FDU and instructors from BCTS, Matt Sarisky and Nicholas Elefther each holding one of the three drone prototypes.

The goal is to build a basic drone platform that students can then program to autonomously navigate through a building. The project would not only teach BCTS’ Aerospace Program students about the basic concepts of aerodynamics but would also give students a chance to explore the rapidly-growing fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensing.

"Having this high-level of technical support in our classrooms exposes our students to the latest industry trends while simultaneously increasing their college readiness,” says Richard Panicucci, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at BCTS. “In addition, modeling these types of labs is valuable professional development for our teachers."

FDU’s role in the project is as a technical advisor and mentor, providing BCTS with the background, technical research, and development experience.

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One of the three drone prototypes that were built as part of the collaboration
“This collaboration allows us to explore areas of technology that would otherwise be inaccessible,” says Dennis Montone, District Supervisor for Math and Science at BCTS. “In multiple areas such as drone technology and autonomous vehicles, FDU has helped us to develop connections between our curriculum and the latest cutting-edge technologies that engage our students’ interest. This connection heightens student involvement and assists them in envisioning a clear pathway from school to the careers they hope to have in the future.”  

The team has completed development of the first three prototype platforms and is now working closely to integrate advanced sensing and processing capabilities to the drones. The project also had to ensure compliance with all pertinent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules. As Sai Sankar, who is an FAA-licensed Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Pilot, notes, “We intentionally developed a very small drone platform that measures less than 6 inches in diameter and we conducted all testing indoors and in a controlled environment to ensure safety and compliance with the FAA’s rules.”

FDU hopes to continue its longstanding collaboration with BCTS and continue to work together on cutting-edge projects like these in the future.

“Petrocelli College is very pleased to collaborate with BCTS in providing innovative technology for the district to serve both its curriculum and its students in this way,” says Dean Lisa Braverman of Petrocelli College.”