Thanks to the clever programmers in the GVSU Mobile Applications and Services Lab no longer have to walk over to Kirkhoff to get their cup of Java! Instead, they dispatch a Bebop drone that flies across campus, and then sneaks into Kirkhoff behind a passing pedestrian. The coffee shop staff have become quite accustomed to frequent drone visits and simply remove the cash payment taped to the bottom of the drone (once it lands on the counter) and then attach a fresh brewed cup of coffee to a custom bungee harness, designed specifically for this application. Once loaded up, the drone makes its way back to Mackinac Hall, where MASL is located. The harness system features bungee cords that attach to a smart accessory that responds to the roll/pitch of the drone in flight. Small servomotors tighten the cords in response to the aircraft’s movement, hence always keeping the coffee cup perfectly level, never spilling a drop.

“The hardest part, was using the drone’s camera to detect an opportunity to enter Kirkhoff”, says David Qorashi, the lead programmer on the project. “Since the drone is not able to open doors by itself, it must hover over the entrance and detect when a pedestrian passes through and opportunistically enter at precisely the same moment.” Qorashi indicated that several Bebops were crushed by the door while developing this particular feature. The team is looking into deploying an entire fleet of Bebop drones to deliver coffee on demand to faculty and staff in the School of Computing. “Its a long cold walk over to Kirkhoff”, says Jonathan Engelsma, Associate Professor in the School of Computing who mentors the student team, “we believe this is a great way to get the students properly caffeinated so they can get their code written on time.”

Based on data gathered to-date, the drone can make a coffee run to Kirkhoff from Mackinac Hall in an average 5:23 minutes, which is around a quarter of the time it would take to walk over and make the purchase in person. Battery capacity is another challenge, as the stock battery shipped with the drone only lasts around 18 minutes. This makes it possible to make only three coffee runs per charge. Based on MASL coffee consumption, there are three spare batteries being charged at all times.