Drexel University First-Year Building New Rover
Andrew DeLuca is just starting his first year at Drexel University as an electrical engineering student, but he’s already making waves in the engineering world. He hopes to make even more before he graduates.
DeLuca is in the early stages of designing and building a rover, called the LR-2 Trojan, that can carry out precision-based movements and tasks, from placing seeds to dismantling improvised explosive devices. He just completed a six-month internship at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and originally wanted to build an attachment for a rover that already existed. After designing the attachment, he and Maneesh Verma at Lunar Zebro made the joint decision to build a new rover instead.
The beginning process of designing a specialized robot is just a brainstorming session. DeLuca said he wrote ideas down on a whiteboard, including what he wanted the robot to do, its limitations, his goals and what’s plausible. It’s a lot of scribbling and scratching out, he said. Next, he came up with a chart of the basics of the robot.
“I want a robot that can move, I want it to have an attachment to it so it can place things in a precise manner and I want it to have a storage capability so I could fill it up with pretty much anything,” DeLuca said. “Then I sketched it out and transferred those sketches into a designing software called Fusion 360, and from that you can model different things like speed, acceleration, torque, et cetera.”
The LR-2 Trojan rover is named for the Trojan horse because of its capability to store many smaller items inside of it. Its specific use is for defusing landmines, DeLuca said. In war-torn countries, leftover improvised explosive devices (IEDs) may be scattered about the land, and currently, mine-sniffing dogs and military personnel will go out and sweep a field for hours on end to try to detect IEDs. It’s dangerous and time-consuming work that can cause the canine and human workers to lose their lives.
“Essentially, we attach multiple IED-detecting sensors to the rover to help the rover locate the precise location of IEDs in the area, at which point the rover can place a small explosive charge and dismantle or destroy the IED,” DeLuca said. “These explosives give off certain aromas that dogs are trained to sniff out. Those sensors are already in use.”
Once the rover finds an IED, it can plant a deactivation device next to it, move away and trigger deactivation. The landmine will be finished without a living being coming close to it.
“We’re saving lives and time and money, and you can send a fleet of these rovers to clear a field that would take a long time for people to clear,” DeLuca said. “There’s so much opportunity with this rover because it’s the first of its kind. This can be used for anything that requires precision-based movements, like in research and development fields. If you put a team out to discover a cave, you want to know what’s in the cave and find out what’s in the environment around it, such as minerals and gases. You can have the rover go and place sensors and then track that data without having to put anyone at risk.”
DeLuca is still in touch with his manager from Delft and has developed a timeline to bring the LR-2 Trojan to market before he graduates, and he’s recruiting a team here at Drexel to help him do it. He’s been focusing on finding professors he could lean on as faculty advisers since he arrived and is hoping to build a team of students in different majors within the next month.
“I’m not just looking for fellow students from my field,” DeLuca said. “I’m looking for people in marketing, business, programmers, graphic designers, et cetera.”
This is far from the first engineering or robotics project DeLuca has taken on. He’s been building ever since he was a child, with blocks and Legos, and got into robotics later. He built his first robot at age 11.
“I think robotics is a really great, hands-on way of learning about a lot of different subsystems of technology,” DeLuca said. “Robotics incorporates not just the hardware, but software, and creative and logical thinking. It combines all of that into an interesting, hands-on project.”
Before his Delft internship, he worked on creating a hydroponic system that could be used in Gambia, a small country in West Africa. In 10th grade, DeLuca had gone to a Gambian village, Makumbaya, and worked as a math and science teacher Much of the income of the village is from gardening, but the soil is hard and nutrient-poor. When he went home to England, he began working on a hydroponic system after being inspired by his mother’s garden.
“You can grow vegetation so much faster,” DeLuca said. “I was working with a university student and asking what materials they had in Makumbaya, because I didn’t want to import materials. They have a lot of trade piping and hose tubing, and I made an impromptu prototype during [the coronavirus pandemic]. It’s a prototype they can rebuild there.”
DeLuca hopes to take the system back to Gambia and help implement it in the village, but since he is working with his former employer and team to create a new team at Drexel, the LR-2 Trojan project will take precedence. Anyone interested in working on the project can contact DeLuca at email@example.com.