Army to Host Drone Fly-Off to Showcase Student Designs

Employees of Planck Aerosystems and WiBotic demonstrate drone autonomous landing and charging technology during the ThunderDrone Rodeo at the newest SOFWERX facility in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 1, 2017. (U.S. Special Operations Command/U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Barry Loo)
Employees of Planck Aerosystems and WiBotic demonstrate drone autonomous landing and charging technology during the ThunderDrone Rodeo at the newest SOFWERX facility in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 1, 2017. (U.S. Special Operations Command/U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Barry Loo)

The U.S. Army will host a drone fly-off event at the University of Texas at El Paso as part of a student design competition the service hopes will encourage interest in the field of military unmanned aerial system technology.

During the April 24 event, undergraduate students will pilot 11 drone systems designed by teams from historically black colleges and universities and other minority institutions, as part of the Army's first HBCU/MI Student Design Competition, according to a service news release.

The Army Combat Capabilities Development Command challenged student and faculty teams representing HBCUs/MIs from institutions across the U.S. and Puerto Rico to develop drone prototypes that take on real-world challenges, such as demonstrating innovative approaches to eliminating wire bundles in small drone technology, the release states.

"The success of Army science and technology depends on the next generation of bold, forward-thinking scientists and engineers from a variety of backgrounds," the release says. "Through this competition, the Combat Capabilities Development Command aims to challenge and inspire undergraduate students pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and math."

Over the past few years, the Pentagon has used design competitions and industry days in an attempt to work more closely with academia and defense companies on developing new drone technology.

In 2017, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency created the Service Academies Swarm Challenge, which involved students from the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The research effort challenged students to develop innovative offensive and defensive tactics for swarms of small UAVs.

Last summer, the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, hosted a robotics and autonomous systems industry day that drew about 100 defense industry firms.

One of the technologies that stood out at that event was a drone recovery system that looked like a drive-through Venus flytrap.

Many of the companies brought white papers to showcase new technologies that might meet the needs of the Army's Robotics and Autonomous Systems Initial Capabilities Document.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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