PALMDALE — It was an all-Antelope Valley finish for the top three teams at the 2018 UAV Challenge in Australia last month.
Knight and Palmdale high schools sent four teams to the competition. Three teams finished one, two, and three. The fourth team finished seventh. A fifth independent team from the Valley finished fifth.
Knight High’s Team Sky High won the competition and also received the Best Rookie Team award, which goes to the rookie team with the highest score. The Blue Birds, another rookie team from Knight High, placed second, 11.2 points out of first place. Palmdale High’s PHS Falcons, another rookie team, finished in third place.
The competition required teams to use an unmanned aircraft to deliver an EpiPen-shaped device as close as possible to a mannequin called Outback Joe. According to the competition scenario, Outback Joe made an emergency mobile phone call to alert authorities that he was suffering an allergic reaction and needed urgent medical assistance.
Because the medical package could be damaged by the shock of a hard landing, teams had to take care to protect it. Each package contained a digital impact monitor that recorded the impact force. The maximum acceleration the medical package could be subjected to was an impact force of 75G. The teams had 20 minutes to complete up to three drops, including set up and packing up.
Twenty-six teams went to Australia for the competition. Each team submitted a technical report and did an oral presentation. They also had to pass a scrutineering test. In the end, only 12 teams qualified for the final round.
Teams had two options to consider for their package delivery — autonomously by systems on board the aircraft, or manually by a mission manager who was not be able to see the target zone with Outback Joe, or the aircraft during the flying element of the competition. Communication between the mission manager and the pilot was not allowed during the competition
Sky High’s Paola Sanchez, 16, Andrew Pulido, 16, and Mina Lee, 15, selected the manual drop.
“I was under a tent and I was wearing goggles and I was just seeing what the drone was flying over, so I had to time myself. Once I saw the first hurdle I would know I had to pull down on the remote and the package would drop,” Sanchez said.
They scored one direct hit on the target, which helped secure their win. They don’t find out whether the EpiPens survived the drop until after the competition.
Mina served as the pilot.
“As first we had complications because of how we were attaching it, but when we started practicing with our new attachment method it worked really well,” Mina said.
The team members thought they would have to fly in the wind, but the weather cooperated and they had calm conditions.
Sky High’s team members worked hard to prepare for the competition. They practiced about four hours a day up to six days or seven days a week throughout the summer.
“We enjoyed everything; everything was spectacular,” said Pulido, who served as safety manager and package loader.
As the first-place team Sky High also earned AUD$5,000, plus AUD$2,000 as the best rookie team. (That’s $4,996 in U.S. currency).
Palmdale High’s junior Alexander Magallon, 15, and his partner junior Elijah Myers, 15, placed third. They won AUD$1,000 for third, or about $713.
“We expected at least top five,” Alexander said.
They missed first place by 13.4 points. They missed one drop because Elijah, who served as mission manager, couldn’t see at one point, Alexander said.
“The difference between third and first was if they nailed their technical report and written report they would have been right up there, or if they didn’t miss one drop,” Palmdale High teacher William Curzi.
Alexander said he learned how other teams did their stuff and built their mechanisms to drop.
“It was very adventurous,” Elijah said via telephone.
He injured his knees playing basketball the day after they returned home from Australia and is not able to be at school.
Asked what he would do differently if he returned to Australia for the 2019 UAV Challenge, Elijah said he would put more effort into the technical report.
“With our slides I would add way more detail. Basically everything that we did at the competition I would add more thought to it,” he said.
Knight High’s Blue Birds team of Adely Salazar, 16, and Elly-Janneth Mora, 16, placed second. They won AUD$2,000
“Since we were going up last we were kind of nervous at the beginning, but then as time went on and we started talking to other people our nerves started going away and everybody was really helpful and kind,” Adely said.
After the competition the students had time to relax. They went snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef.
“I’m not a very good swimmer, but I had fun,” Adely said. “I made friends with everyone.”
Knight High’s team of sophomore Aiden Betzer, 15, and freshman David Fletcher, 14, chose the more difficult autonomous drop. They placed seventh out of 26 teams because 14 teams did not pass scrutineering.
“I probably would have made a better power connection because some of the wires were sort of loose,” Betzer said, when asked what he would have changed.
They earned one of the highest scores on their presentation, a 12.9 out of 15 points. The next highest was 13.4 from the MUROC Titans, a team from a private Australian school that named itself after Edwards Air Force Base’s first name.
“It just did not drop. The power connection for the servo did not work,” Betzer said.
Knight High teacher James Stockdale said the teens explained the physics of the math better than the other teams.
Stockdale’s son Cullen, 15, a student at SOAR High School, and daughter Sophia Stockdale, 12, a student at Knight Preparatory Academy, competed as the Millennium Falcons, finished fifth. They were also presented the Insitu Pacific Airmanship Award for their professionalism and great attitude.
“It’s more showing that they are safety conscious, which is really a big deal to them,” teacher Bridget Howitt said. “They always take safety over winning.”
In the case of the Millennium Falcons, Howitt said the team decided not to fly because of dangerous conditions.
“They forfeited the chance of winning just to be safe,” Howitt said.
After finishing in the top five of the competition the only way to improve on their performance this year is to finish with a higher score next year, Stockdale said.
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