SBHS Team NEXT LEVEL takes first place in the Real World Design Challenge, Saturday, November 15 in Washington, DC. (L-R) Derek Gagnon, Daniel Chang, Daniel Yi, Clark Deng, Thomas Urbanak, Sai Andra, and Alec Gelfenbein. Joining them are the Blue Ribbon Judges who selected them as the top team.

SBHS Wins National Aeronautics Design Competition

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Thursday November 20, 2014

For the sixth consecutive year, South Burlington High School students have won the Vermont Governor’s Cup in the Real World Design Challenge, a comprehensive and extremely difficult aeronautical design competition. This year, they went a giant step further and won first place in the national competition in Washington, D.C.

The 2013-2014 Challenge was focused on precision agriculture, with the goal of developing an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that could detect European corn borer infestations in very large corn fields, to target treatment to reduce crop losses as a result of this invasive species. Students needed to decide on an approach to use in detecting pest infestations from the air as early in the crop’s life cycle as possible, select suitable sensors, design the aircraft, develop flight plans that would efficiently scan a 25 square mile field, assign personnel roles, determine what supporting ground equipment would be necessary, propose alternative uses for their system to increase financial viability, and develop a business plan that could be pitched to investors in order to launch a company focused on providing the detection system to farmers.

If all this sounds like a tremendous amount of work, it was. The SBHS team of Sai Andra, Daniel Chang, Clark Deng, Derek Gagnon, Alec Gelfenbein, Thomas Urbanak, and Daniel Yi began working on the state challenge in late September of 2013. 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 scanned from 640 to 16,000 acres. The students worked over the summer and for several hours almost every day after school since the beginning of this school year. Sai Andra had graduated from SBHS last June, but worked on the engineering portion of the challenge in Florida, where he is attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, often joining the team remotely via video conferencing.

The students presented their final design in Washington, D.C., Saturday, November 15, with their expenses fully paid by the competition organizers. South Burlington students have come very close to breaking into the top three teams at Nationals in several of the five previous times they have competed, but have never made it to the podium. SBHS students have consistently demonstrated superior presentation skills, especially when compared with teams from other states, but the thing that really set them apart this year was a highly innovative detection strategy. Faced with a task that some of their professional mentors told them might not even be possible with current technologies, the students developed a totally out-of-the-box solution that would combine several different recent technological advances into a novel new approach to detecting an infestation by a specific pest. It was the boldness of their strategy, combined with its thoughtful development and the passionate and confident way that they presented their proposal that pushed the SBHS team over the top.

As winners, students bring back to SBHS some very impressive trophies, and each earned $50,000 scholarships to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. As it turns out, one of the team members, Sai Andra, is already attending classes there, so he will receive a huge discount on his tuition, for which he was congratulated by his school’s chancellor at the competition.

Congratulations to this impressive group of SBHS students for their outstanding accomplishment!

SOURCE: Stephen Barner, Technology Content, Area Supervisor, SBHS