Danny Ellis was first introduced to CAD in high school with a course in Autodesk Inventor. As he advanced into the engineering program at the University of Michigan, he was introduced to CATIA.
“In between my freshman and sophomore years, I became irritated at how cumbersome it was to rotate a model using a traditional mouse. I thought I could get a trackball mouse and program it so when I rotate the mouse it rotates the part on screen. That’s when I came across 3Dconnexion. I ordered their SpaceNavigator right away,” said Ellis.
In 2009 during his senior year, Ellis began researching an aerial robot competition. Five days later, he started the Michigan Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (MAAV) team with 15 members. Within one week, the team kicked off their first quadrotor design for the International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). At the end of the first year, MAAV successfully built two quadrotor vehicles capable of manual flight.
“The IARC challenge is to build a flying robot of any type you want. We chose a four-rotor helicopter that can fly through an unknown building completely on its own,” added Ellis. “There can be no communication with the device. The robot follows signs, must avoid detection from security cameras, locate a room, retrieve a flash drive, drop off the decoy, and get out in less than 10 minutes. No one has completed the mission yet, but we are one of the better teams competing. It’s the most challenging mission to date.”
When Ellis started the team, he wanted to get a 3Dconnexion 3D mouse for everyone. “It makes modeling CAD designs so much faster and easier,” said Ellis. IN addition, the team quickly realized trying to fly the quadrotor with a standard joystick didn’t mimic the movements very well and wasn’t intuitive enough for the user. A 3D mouse could mimic the exact movement of the robot. It was at this point the team decided to take matters into their own hands and control flight with a 3D mouse.
“We use the 3Dconnexion SDK to develop a driver to control the quadrotor with the SpaceExplorer and it quickly allowed us to control pitch and roll, zoom control height, and rotation control yaw,” noted Ellis. “In addition, The SpaceExplorer’s Intelligent Function Keys control other commands such as on/off and camera control.”
Today, Ellis is still the head of the MAAV team while also completing two masters in aerospace engineering and robotics. He continues to use CATIA for all of his designing both for the team and his class projects. He also works at a student lab training other students involved in competitions in CAD modeling and machining.
He uses the SpacePilot Pro. “A 3D mouse allows me to easily interact with the model while clicking and drawing in 3D at the same time,” he said.