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January Graduate Engineer of the Month is creating drones for disaster evacuation

Shraddha Barawkar is motivated to make a difference in society with her work

Shraddha Barawkar January Graduate Engineer of the Month

Shraddha Barawkar, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, has been named Graduate Engineer of the Month for January by the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Barawkar also has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC. 

Barawkar is driven by her desire to make a positive impact on humanity by helping people during disasters. It was this motivation that guided her when seeking a research project. Her research throughout her time at UC focuses on creating a system of multiple cooperative drones that could be used to evacuate people in an emergency. 

“I will get my master’s and my Ph.D. – but I will also do something for society, if it is successful,” Barawkar said. 

Her proposed system is fault tolerant, so if one drone fails the rest of the fleet will remain in flight. The number of drones needed in a particular situation can be adjusted to accommodate different groups of people. These features are not available in existing drone taxis or aerial cars, Barawkar said.

Schematic diagram of people being transported by UAVs collaboratively

A schematic diagram from Barawkar's doctoral dissertation shows people being transported by UAVs working collaboratively. Provided.

Barawkar won third prize at UC’s 3-Minute Thesis in 2017, a competition that tasks participants to clearly explain their research to a general audience in three minutes or less. The experience of sharing her project – and the positive reaction from the audience – helped propel her to continue on this path.  

“She has a passion for her research, which has huge potential for impact on the future of transportation,” said Manish Kumar, the UC mechanical engineering professor who nominated Barawkar for the award. 

She has worked in two UC labs, the Cooperative Distributed Systems Lab and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Multi-Agent Systems Technology Research (UAV MASTER) Lab. Barawkar has been a teaching assistant for undergraduate classes on numerical techniques for mechanical engineers. 

An idea spawned from Barawkar’s research, on active tether-controlled drones, led to the filing of a provisional patent. The concept has huge commercial implications, Kumar said. With this technology, an operator can easily fly a drone like a kite – no piloting skills required. The technology provides improves safety compared to traditional drones. 

She has published several papers about her research with the American Control Conference, the AIAA Dayton-Cincinnati Aerospace Sciences Symposium and the Dynamic Systems and Control Conference

During her time at UC, Barawkar, an international student, has volunteered at multiple events that engage young students on topics of Indian culture, robotics and drones, including at the Cincinnati Museum Center and local high schools and elementary schools. She is studying karate at the UC Campus Recreation Center, which she said has been a positive influence on all aspects of her life. 

Despite some bumps along the way, the challenges on her path helped strengthen her resolve to forge ahead with her research. 

“A tree’s strength is not gauged by its trunk or branches. It is the roots which make it strong. My parents and teachers form my roots,” Barawkar said. “My parents have given shape to my character. Dr. Manish Kumar’s relentless efforts towards me have shaped my research. Half my Ph.D. belongs to him.”

After her expected Fall 2020 graduation from UC, Barawkar hopes to continue with post-doctoral research and ultimately reach her goal of making a usable multi-drone aerial car.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/MRr8tJVKgVE?rel=0

Photography and videography/Corrie Mayer/CEAS Marketing