The SBHS Real World Design Challenge Team (L-R) Daniel Yi, Alex Chaulot, Derek Gagnon, Clark Deng, Daniel Chang, Thomas Urbanak, Aster O’Leary


Real World Design Challenge Team Wins Innovation Award in National Aeronautics Competition

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Thursday December 03, 2015

For the seventh consecutive year, South Burlington High School (SBHS) students have won the Vermont Governor’s Cup in the Real World Design Challenge, a comprehensive and extremely difficult aeronautical design competition. The students competed for the most innovative solution.

The 2014-2015 Real World Design Challenge was focused on precision agriculture, with the goal of developing an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that could use precision delivery of pesticides to treat infestations in crop fields. The goal was to propose a system that would reduce overall pesticide use by targeting only infested areas, instead of spraying entire fields. Students needed to develop a strategy for delivering the pesticides from the air, design the aircraft, develop flight plans that would efficiently traverse large fields, assign personnel roles, determine what supporting ground equipment would be necessary, and develop a business plan that could be pitched to investors in order to launch a company focused on providing the system to farmers.

The SBHS team of Daniel Chang, Alexandre Chaulot, Clark Deng, Derek Gagnon, Aster O’Leary, Thomas Urbanak, and Daniel Yi began working on the state challenge in late September of 2014. Their state win was announced in April of this year, giving them only a short break before diving back into the National Challenge, which added complexity and increased the size of the fields to be treated. The students worked over the summer and put in many hours after school, since the beginning of this school year.

The toughest part of this year’s challenge was the problem of how to deliver sufficient amounts of pesticide, while keeping within the FAA-mandated gross weight limit of 55 pounds for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The students developed a very creative approach of using a ground vehicle that would both carry the bulk of the pesticide, and provide power to the aircraft, which would be connected to the ground station using a light, flexible, tubular tether. Pesticide would be pumped through the tube to the aircraft, which would perform the precision delivery to infected crops. The ground unit would be a semi-autonomous robotic vehicle that would travel between the rows of corn as the UAV delivers pesticide to surrounding areas.

The students presented their final design from SBHS using a videoconferencing system that allowed them to communicate with the judging panel and to view the presentations of other teams. They were awarded the Innovation Award, which is described by the contest organizers as follows: “Judges look for teams whose work stand out and make them say ‘wow!’ This award is presented to the team that produces the most thought-provoking and innovative solution; including how and why it was chosen, as based upon data in the scoring rubrics. Vermont won the Innovation award for their outside-the-box solution for dealing with the weight issue while keeping within FAA regulations.”

SBHS is the only school in the nation that has competed to the national level in this contest, all seven years that it has run. Technology department head Stephen Barner has been the team’s coach every year. Congratulations to the coach and this impressive group of SBHS students for their outstanding accomplishment!