Expo aims to increase Italian-American collaborations

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

What color drone would you like with your new car?

That could be a dealer’s question if a group of Wayne State University students working with drone developer Skypersonic LLC and other companies have their way.

Nearly 20 college students are working on a drone-car prototype that could communicate with each other to show camera images from the drone on an infotainment screen or continuously follow around a vehicle for a bird’s-eye view of vehicle’s surroundings.

“We are mainly trying to design an autonomous system for the drone to come inside the car for the driver, so that whenever he wants it, with the click of a button, he can give instructions just sitting in the car,” said Amey Chodankar, a 24-year-old WSU graduate student.

The concept of the drone-car project will be featured at a new “Italian Technological Excellence in the U.S.” expo at WSU’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center on May 10 in Detroit.

The project and expo are being headed by WSU professor Giuseppe Santangelo, also CEO of Michigan-based Skpersonic.

“I strongly believe we are going to have these little objects inside of properties that can move by themselves,” said Santangelo. Uses for the drone-vehicle pairing, he said, range from recreational activities such as a having a drone follow a golf cart to find the ball or mark the hole, to more serious ventures such as helping public safety officials search the scene of an accident.

The ultimate goal, Santangelo said, is to have the drone autonomously work with a vehicle, while also allowing a user to control it from that vehicle if needed.

The students, Santangelo said, are working on software to link an electric golf cart-sized car from Italian company Car Studio to a Skypersonic drone through the car’s Magneti Marelli infotainment screen. He expects the project to include a working prototype by year’s end.

The Skypersonic drones being used have a protective sphere around them so they are safer to use in indoor spaces such as factories, where they might be used for inspections. Some are designed to roll on the ground to get into tight spaces.

The free daylong event will feature more than a dozen speakers from academia as well as the automotive and health care sectors in the United States and Italy. Officials will discuss emerging technologies in both sectors — from autonomous systems and advanced robotic manufacturing, to non-invasive and new-generation diagnostic systems in the area of cardiology.

“Since I teach at Wayne State University … I had the idea of trying to improve the relationship between the United States and Italian universities,” said Santangelo, a native of Italy who initially came to the U.S. five years ago for an engineering company. “We have companies that are already established here, and companies that are planning to come here.”

Automotive speakers include representatives from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and its robotics arm Comau as well as auto supplier Brembo and others. Health care organizations include ultrasound manufacturer Esaote SpA, St. Joseph Mercy and the University of Michigan.

The expo also will include a career fair and debut the technological-artistic exhibit of photographer Brad Ziegler entitled “The Divine Spark,” an overview of Italian excellence in engineering and medicine in the United States.

“The event is not just a target for the students,” Santangelo said. “It’s for anyone interested. We want to spread out these messages to everybody.”


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Technology expo

What: Italian Technological Excellence in the U.S. conference

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10

Where: McGregor Memorial Conference Center, 495 Gullen Mall in Detroit

Schedule: Available at www.engineering.wayne.edu/andersoninstitute

Cost: Free