There will be more than fights of flight and school pride on the line when the Huron Drone Club competes with Farmington High School May 5 at the University of Michigan.
A prize of $2,500 in scholarship money would be a nice fetch for Huron’s Science, Technology and Engineering Program (HSTEP). That’s first prize.
Each school’s Drone Club will have to display that their craft can fly autonomously as well as complete various tasks. Judges will use a points system to determine which drone does the best in the competition, and that team will be awarded the scholarship money for its school. Yes, there’s a little drama involved.
“The kids are excited about it, no doubt about it,” said Rob Cupit, a teacher in the HSTEP program and sponsor of the Drone Club. “They meet every Tuesday and Thursday for about an hour and a half after school to work on the drone and we’re making some good progress. We’ve got some work to do before May 5, but we’ll get there.”
There are about 15 engineering students in the Drone Club, and they are putting their best efforts forward to make sure their aircraft is ready to go by the time the competition – sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics – arrives.
The design of the drone is done, the parts are ordered and they have been coming in slowly. This can be a painstaking process, according to Cupit.
“The parts don’t come in necessarily in the order you need to put them together,” he said. “For instance, you can’t put in motors before you put in electronic motor controllers, so you have to wait for them to come in. It can try your patience, sometimes, but the kids are real good about working on other things while they wait.”
One of the “other things” club members work on is a formal presentation they will give on the day of the competition. In addition to flying the drone for the judges, they will explain how they built it, and what they learned from the experience.
“I learned about fabrication and assembly, sure, but just as important was what I learned about how to manage a project and the time it takes to work together to get something completed,” said Maia Herrington, a 15-year-old junior in her first year as a member of the Drone Club. “That’s what I love about being in the club. Mr. Cupit and Miss (Katie) Marchionna suggest things and guide us, but they give us so much independence.
“That’s why I enjoy the experience so much.”
In addition to simply flying, the drones in the May 5 competition will be required to pick up a golf ball and drop it in a 1-foot-radius loop. The drone also has to connect 3D cubes to build a structure and whichever team’s drone builds the tallest structure earns the most points.
“I’m thrilled to be in the competition,” Herrington said. “I can’t wait to see how our drone performs.”
When asked if she thought there would be any pressure to get the drone ready by the date of the competition, Herrington answered: “I’m sure we’ll have a flying drone by then; whether or not it will be able to perform the tasks will be right down to the wire.”
How about an all-nighter the night before the competition to get the drone ready? “I’m not sure our teachers would be up for that,” Herrington answered with a laugh.”
Herrington joined the Drone Club because of her general interest in engineering. She carries a 3.95 grade-point average, and says the club is a good outlet for her to “experiment with different things.”
“I would tell anyone who’s interested to be safe with what they’re doing, but have fun with it,” she said. “You don’t always have to follow the manual exactly, although you do to a certain extent. Try adding different mechanisms.
“Like anything else, it’s what you make of it.”
The Huron Drone Club, if successful, just might make $2,500 for the HSTEP program at Huron. But, here’s the great part. Even if the club finishes second, it will bring home $1,000.
“We’re all really excited,” Herrington said. “It should be a lot of fun.”