Rubble Busters SkyHack Team Creates a Lifesaving Drone on the Fly 

Mechatronics engineering major Lilia Colbrunn saw the SkyHack competition, held Nov. 3-5, 2023, as a chance to experience the excitement of creating innovations on the fly while doing something with a purpose.  

Colbrunn, a senior, called on her brother Gabe, a mechatronics engineering major, and her friend Cole Hebbard, a mechatronics major and a pilot, to form the team Rubble Busters. The aviation-focused design challenge partners with Design Innovation and the College of Aeronautics and Engineering. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation was the majority donor for the event giving $44,650 to the university to make it happen.

The trio won first place in the Aerospace Redefined competition category for their autonomous search and rescue aircraft equipped with an infrared heat scanner. It also can notify rescuers and provide artificial intelligence-powered conversations to give instructions to those in need.   

Here, Lilia Colbrunn talks with Kent State Today about the experience:



“I was confident in our idea, but it was very intimidating looking at everyone else's projects because there are some really cool things,” Colbrunn said. “So I thought it could go either way, but I knew that we had done something impressive, but so did everyone else.” 

Rubble Busters has innovative autonomous search and report features:   

Colbrunn said she was excited to participate in SkyHack because it was reminiscent of the robotic competitions that she did throughout middle and high school. “What I really missed was the chaotic environment of having to invent and build something,” said Colbrunn of Hinckley, Ohio. “I was super excited when I heard about SkyHack, and I texted my little brother, who was also involved in robotics in high school, and he was like, ‘This is great. This is going to be like robotics again, but it's going to be like on steroids.’”

SkyHack was Hebbard’s first experience with this type of competition, but he was drawn to the idea because he has always wanted to work on a project to design and program an autonomous drone. Hebbard said the team quickly took on the tasks that complemented their strengths and interests: he worked on the physical design and flying the drone, Gabe Colbrunn worked on the AI voice and imaging coding, and Lilia Colbrunn designed and fabricated the infrared sensor and created the logo.

“When the idea came up of using a drone for autonomous search and rescue operations, I was all for it,” Hebbard said. “This idea was fine-tuned throughout the design competition and truly came out to be an amazing idea.”

Lilia Colbrunn didn’t know that she was interested in drones until she toured Kent State’s airport while she was a junior at Highland High School and university staff spoke of a new drone program. She immediately fell in love with drones. Kent State’s mechatronics engineering program is distinctive, Lilia Colbrunn said. The collaboration with other students and support from faculty is helping her build the foundation she will need after her expected graduation in May 2024.

“It is unlike any engineering program I’ve ever heard of,” Colbrunn said. “It feels homey and personal. I feel an unbelievable amount of support.”

Learn more about SkyHack 2023 at Kent State.

Learn more about Design Innovation at Kent State.

Learn more about the College of Aeronautics and Engineering at Kent State.

POSTED: Monday, December 4, 2023 02:15 PM
Updated: Wednesday, December 6, 2023 09:58 AM
April McClellan-Copeland