Droning On: UND Hosts Collegiate National Championship for the First Time

Sixty pilots from 23 schools across the country competed

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — UND hosts the 2019 Collegiate National Drone Championships for the first time ever.

KVRR’s Danielle Church tells us why some pilots, judges and UAS professors at the university are calling it a major milestone.

There’s nothing quite like aviation, especially when you add a drone to the mix.

“Anything in aviation is a blast. Specifically for unmanned aircraft and the racing quadcopters, I mean it’s like the biggest adrenaline rush you can get from sitting in a chair,” said Jordan Krueger, UND UAS team captain.

Sixty pilots from 23 schools across the nation are seeing who can get the most amount of laps around UND’s High Performance Center.

“They are ripping around this track at 60–100 miles an hour, hauling butt. There’s some awesome crashes,” Krueger said.

But there’s a catch: only two minutes are on the clock.

“Our batteries only last two minutes. That’s it. Literally, at 2:20, we have aircraft falling out of the sky basically. They just can’t stay aloft anymore,” Krueger said.

For the past two years, the drone championships were held at Purdue University in Indiana.

The first year, UND’s UAS team came in 11th and in the second, they climbed up the leaderboard to take home fifth place.

But this year, having the competition at home means even more.

“It’s like a front porch for our unmanned programs and autonomous programs. We get to bring people in, have this great competition, people get to see from all over the country what we can do here and what we have in our ecosystem,” said Mark Askelson, UND Atmospheric Sciences professor.

While the races show off the school’s UAS programs, they’re also ending a stigma.

“It raises not just public awareness that UAS exists as a career but it also increases public acceptance of UAS. Drone racing is harmless, it’s a good thing,” said Matt Dunlevy, a judge at the competition. “Are they going to have a future? Are they competing with say the traditional piloting industry? And is it a safe bet? The answer is absolutely.”

Especially when we’re all looking and listening into the future.

“Having machines that are just plain smarter, better tools is the next big transformation that we’re living through,” Askelson said.

UND’s UAS team was able to get the drones for the competition through student organization funding at the university.

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