ECU engineering student accepted into German internship program

East Carolina University engineering student Cole Dickerson has been accepted into the German Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program for the summer.

DAAD is the world’s largest funding organization for the international exchange of students and researchers, according to its website. Dickerson’s selection includes a scholarship, and depending on COVID-19 travel rules, a trip to Germany.

Cole Dickerson (Contributed photo)

Dickerson said he woke up one morning to an email that was sent overnight that announced his acceptance into the program.

“I was incredibly excited and called both of my parents immediately,” he said. “I am incredibly excited to participate in an international opportunity on the scale of the DAAD RISE internship program.”

Dickerson is a sophomore from Gates County. He is pursuing a bachelor’s in engineering with a concentration in electrical engineering. He is also an EC Scholar.

Dickerson said he learned about the RISE program from Dr. Todd Fraley, director of the EC Scholars program and associate dean of the Honors College.

“I’m interested in engineering and I’m interested in traveling, so this internship was a perfect way to combine the two,” Dickerson said.

As part of the internship, Dickerson said he would be working with simulations and experiments on collision avoidance for unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as swarming algorithms for the UAVs.

“The experimental platform comprises several UAVs that can fly autonomously indoors and outdoors and can communicate among them through different technologies,” he said. “Thanks to a Linux onboard computer, I will be implementing different algorithms on the UAVs and setting up various experiments.”

Dickerson said as commercial use of UAVs increases, so do the chances of the crafts flying into each other or other objects if safety measures aren’t in place.

“In the future, UAVs will be part of the landscape. They will deliver your last online purchase, your pizza or an urgent medication from the pharmacy,” he said. “UAVs will share the airspace, fly together and will avoid collisions in an autonomous and self-organized way.”

He said he’s looking forward to learning a lot through the research internship.

“My programming skills should improve, and I’ll gain more experience working with Linux, microcontrollers and flying copters,” he said. “I am also very excited to learn about Germany’s culture, research landscape and study opportunities.”

Dickerson has been working as an undergraduate research assistant with Dr. Zhen Zhu, associate professor in the Department of Engineering, on a project that explores advanced applications of UAVs. They are also looking to develop a training workshop for the N.C. Department of Transportation in which camera and laser-scanning technologies on UAVs are used to map disaster areas and construction sites.

“It is my hope that I learn enough about drones in Germany and from Dr. Zhu that I can earn a scholarship to graduate school,” Dickerson said.

From there, Dickerson said he’s interested in pursuing a doctorate in electrical engineering and working in industry. He said ECU was the perfect place to start his career path.

“I decided to attend ECU because of the close-knit communities within the engineering department and Honors College, and because of ECU’s focus on research,” he said.

Dickerson credits Zhu, Fraley and Dr. Blair Weaver, teaching instructor in the Department of Engineering, for helping him achieve his goals.

“I would like to emphasize how thankful I am to ECU, the Honors College and the engineering department for preparing me to be competitive for international opportunities,” he said.

— By Ken Buday