After a senior design team failed to make any progress with an automated RC helicopter, the professor let me take a shot at it. The first thing I did was replace the current RC system with a microcontroller and a Playstation2 wireless controller. Several ultrasound distance sensors were then placed around the helicopter.
The first task I tried to tackle was making it hover. Using just a single sensor pointing down, I was able to make it kind of work. Before I knew it, the summer was over and I was assigned a new project.
I definitely see how universities can spend millions of dollars to get these to work. It does not work too well on a few hundred dollar budget.