Wanted: Students to Design Unamanned Aircraft for Agriculture

The Iolani School, Honolulu, HI., competes in the 2009 Real World Challenge in Washington DC on March 21, 2009. (left to right:Adeline Li, Celia Ou, Jessica Lynn Saylors, Julia Zhang, Anya Liao, and Amy Ko)

The JET (Junior Engineering Team) Frances Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma City with the Oklahoma State championship trophy at the 2009 Real World Challenge in Washington DC on March 21, 2009. (left to right: first row: Jessica Lilienthal, Alice Tholen, Jacob Niles, Second row: Coach Mark Pierce,Andrew May,Sean Stephens and Leith Prise)

On the outset, the challenge for the high school students seems straightforward: design “a UAS (unmanned aircraft system), which may have a fixed wing, rotorcraft, or hybrid design.” But this UAS needs to perform certain mission-critical tasks. It needs to fly over the cornfields of Iowa and pick out areas affected by a pest known as the European Corn Borer (in its lava stage, it can tunnel into the corn’s ear and feed on the plant). Oh, by the way, the project needs to stay within budget and come with a business plan.

The prizes are: $50,000 scholarships from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to each student on the national winning team; and a $1,000 stipend to the teacher who best integrates the challenge into their curriculum.

If the challenge sounds more like a request for proposal (RFP) than a typical school assignment, it’s probably because it’s called Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), an annual high school competition. The contest is run by a public-private partnership, aimed at promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) expertise.

Just as the challenge forces participants to confront a real-world problem, it also offers access to professional design tools, including PTC Creo (3D mechanical design), Mathcad Prime 2.0 (engineering calculation), and the Windchill (collaboration and data management). According to the competition organizers, “Every teacher that participates in the RWDC gets $1 million in professional engineering software along with training, curriculum materials, and access to mentors.”

Participating teams are urged to:

  • develop a prototype;
  • fund the concept;
  • prove the prototype design; and
  • identify further funding sources to transform the concept into a product.

The U.S. national output of corn represents 32% of the global corn production, according to RWDC. Organizers believe “substantial benefit would be achieved through the application of UAS in precision agricultural applications” to combat invasive specimens.

For the detailed challenge specifications, download and read the PDF file here.

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