Project Title: Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Parachute System

Team 17078 Members:
Abdulmajed Almodhabri, electrical and computer engineering
Keenan Heller, mechanical engineering
Steve Miller, electrical and computer engineering
Christian Oropeza, industrial engineering
Nick Patzke, mechanical engineering
Jonathon Rea, mechanical engineering

Sponsor: O-Chute

Young Alum Employs Students to Design and Deploy Drone Parachutes

When his parents bought Pete Lauderdale II a drone, it didn’t take long to crash it. Luckily, it was only a minor run-in with the couch, but it got the 25-year-old UA alumnus thinking: Many drones travel upward of 40 mph and can soar miles from their earthbound pilots, but even for his relatively cheap drone, a crash could have unsalvageable — not to mention heartbreaking — results.

“It’s 800 dollars. If it falls out of the sky, there’s no way it’s going to land safely,” he said. “How do you stop an object like that from falling down and getting damaged?”

In addition, Lauderdale realized these drones represented a safety hazard after reading about Californian pedestrians getting hit in the head with falling drones, and about an incident in Turkey where a single plummeting drone injured 11 people.

An idea started to form, about a lightweight parachute that would automatically deploy when a drone started to lose altitude too quickly. Lauderdale’s market research determined there were only three or four other people in the world, all overseas, marketing similar ideas — he enrolled in Startup Tucson’s Thryve, a three-month intensive course about entrepreneurship.

“I’m not a mechanical engineer or an electrical engineer,” he said. “But I’m hardworking, and I’m ready to find any avenue to get this thing completed.”

When he asked the folks at Startup Tucson how he might be able to get his product developed without breaking the bank, they suggested the Engineering Design Program. He was surprised — he was fresh out of college, not a major donor by any means. But not only did his completion of the Thryve course line up perfectly with the Engineering Design Program’s need for a few more challenging programs, he also learned that startups like his qualified for a hefty discount on the program.

In August 2017, he founded O-Chute.

A Team Comes Together

His Engineering Design Program team has been tasked with designing a lightweight product that works reliably at all altitudes; can be counted on to deploy reliably and not get tangled; and offers a user-friendly installation process.

He likes his team, and hopes they’re interested in sticking with the project because he’s certainly interested in hiring them on at O-Chute after graduation.

“Most of the senior design projects are from corporations or government entities,” said team member Steve Miller. “Pete is just a guy with a vision, and I liked the idea of working for that vision.”

“You have so many people working toward one goal, it’s really cool,” Lauderdale said. “They’re working so hard, so I know I’ve got to work harder.”

Once the design is finalized, Lauderdale plans to get a provisional patent, then a full patent, and hopes to leverage his background in international affairs to sell his product in other countries. He also wants to talk to insurance companies to see if people who buy his product can qualify for reduced deductibles on drone insurance.

The fruits of Lauderdale’s collaboration with Team 17078 will be on display at Design Day on April 30.