Thomas Franco, a University of Cincinnati graduate student, is working on his master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

Franco, whose discipline is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), is writing his thesis on drone data collection. Franco has taken a university-owned drone and redesigned it with a Pixhawk 4 flight system and a Raspberry Pi onboard computer.

He then set up a software program so it would accept commands from his laptop. His thesis will prove that a UAV can fly autonomously, navigate an indoor and outdoor obstacle course, and land and take off at predetermined locations while relaying real-time tracking coordinates back to the “mothership”, all with the push of a button.

When not working on his thesis, he assists in the university’s flight test department as a drone test pilot, qualifying drones of senior engineering students, testing for proper flight configuration and operation. Franco is set to graduate in the spring of 2017. He is a 2011 graduate of Ridgefield High School and a 2015 graduate of Roger Williams University (mechanical engineering) in Rhode Island.

He is the son of Tom and Yvonne Franco of Ridgefield.