By Will O’Connell, Base 11 Fellow

Will O'Connell, Base 11 FellowOver the summer, I successfully completed a fellowship through Base 11 at the University of California, Irvine. The program that I was selected for was the Autonomous Systems Engineering Academy at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. The purpose of the program was to provide five of us from different community colleges across the county with hands-on experience in engineering, and to introduce us to entrepreneurship. We had six weeks to identify a problem, design a quadcopter (drone), manufacture and assemble the parts, program an autonomous feature, and then two more weeks at the end to report and present our results.

I partnered up with another student from Henry Ford College, Huda Sedaki. Huda and I did a lot of research on man-made disasters, and we discovered that the leading cause of fatalities in that category is car accidents. Specifically, we wanted to address the issue of multiple collisions occurring as sort of a chain reaction. We referred to an incident in Michigan, where close to 200 cars were involved in one cumulative pile up on a snow-blanketed I-94.

The solution we developed is to have a quadcopter dispatch from the scene of the accident and travel toward oncoming traffic to alert them of the dangers up ahead. Our goal is to minimize risk by increasing the amount of time drivers have to react to upcoming hazards.

Designing the quadcopter and turning our idea into a tangible creation was an amazing experience. All of us in the program had access to a workshop designated just for us, where we received safety training on how to use many types of machinery (e.g., laser engravers, bandsaws, drill presses, 3D printers). What began as scant sketches on our dorm’s whiteboard quickly transformed into a functional prototype that was completely designed, manufactured and programmed by only the two of us.

“My experience with Base 11 solidifies my belief that engineering is the right choice for me.”

Huda and Will Base 11 Fellows

The final challenge was showcasing our work. We wrote an academic paper about our project, designed a scientific poster for a poster session, and created a 20-minute presentation that we gave to an audience of about 80 people that included entrepreneurs, professors and students.

The sense of accomplishment after completing this internship has been extremely gratifying.

“This internship with Base 11 has provided me with a myriad of skills that will directly translate to my profession and also an incredible avenue for continued support.”

I’ve gained a healthy confidence and a voracious appetite for exploring new opportunities.


Will O’Connell is a Henry Ford College student and Base 11 Fellow. Learn more about how community college students can spend the summer at prestigious research institutions, while being paid, here.