Thursday, February 29, 2024

Flying high

Azle High School drone team places fourth at national Bell contest

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AZLE — For the golf ball citizens living in a miniature Bell City, Azle High School students’ piloting skills meant the difference between life and a simulated fiery death.

Azle High School’s Hornet Drones team participated in the Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics (AVR) championship qualifier Nov. 12, winning third place for the day and ranking fifth out of over 75 teams from across the U.S. and Canada. The team had the second highest score in a single match. For the first time, the group also won the Exemplary Team Award and qualified for the championship contest on the Dec. 1 weekend. The Exemplary Team Award was given to the team that “best demonstrates professionalism, passion and respect to both fellow competitors and event staff.”

This is the second year in a row the AHS team has made it to the championship. The team went on to place fourth place — just three points shy of third — at the championship which was held at the Bell Innovation Barn in Hurst, Texas.

Azle’s drone team ranked alongside such highfalutin institutions as the Gene Burton College and Career Academy in Rockwall, Texas and the Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science in Reston, Virginia at both the championship and qualifying events. The championship event consisted of the top 14 teams in the nation.

The contest is organized by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation and is made possible by the sponsorship of Bell Flight. This is the sixth time the REC has held this competition. This year’s competition consisted of an autonomous recon, rescue and firefighting simulation. At least seven students per team designed, built and eventually operated a large AVR drone, telopilot with smoke jumper, Sphero first responders and a firetruck rover to complete tasks for this timed contest. The challenge is intended to replicate the steps needed to save lives during a firefighting operation. The students then presented their engineering notebook and gave a presentation on their design to the judges.

This is AHS teacher Tyler Harrison’s third year supervising the team and only the fourth year the program has been offered at the high school.

“It’s been really fun watching them develop over the last three years,” Harrison said. “The first year it was all brand new. I just watched them mature and get closer together and get more focused every year. Last year they qualified for the championship event for the first time, and it really put a fire under them this year to really spend a lot of time and effort working on their design and setting themselves up for success. I’m very proud of them. A lot of these guys are seniors and have developed a lot of aviation skills because of this and now several of them are interested in pursuing a career in aviation or drones. The competition has had an impact not only on them in high school, but also their career path. Bell has done a really awesome job giving the kids an opportunity pursuing something super challenging. We’re really thankful for the opportunity to participate.”

Among the group are prospective future air force drone pilots, biomedical engineers and those who plan on incorporating engineering and drones in jobs like construction mapping, for example.

While the team didn’t have to start entirely from scratch, making modifications from last year’s AVR drone, they spent countless hours troubleshooting, testing, building and sacrificing their Saturdays for competitions. Their season started at the beginning of the school year and the months of hard work and labor the team have gone through is all worth it, they said.

“This year has been nothing but improvements,” senior Kyler Akers said. “It’s wild, especially since most of us are seniors, this is our last year. This is very awesome… It’s a massive amount of teamwork. Everybody helps out in their own way.”

Team members say they believe drone technology will have massive implications for firefighting, delivery and countless other industries before we know it and that Bell’s AVR challenge was a great opportunity to demonstrate some applications of this advancing technology.

“We put a lot of thought into this,” senior Logan Loquet said. “We’ve gone through several iterations of the smoke jumper drop and we’ve gone through several telos. There’s been a lot of fires in California, Colorado, Canada, and that may have been why this competition popped up in the way that it has, but we definitely try to mimic modern technology as much as we can and modern practices as much as we can.”

Along with developing skills for their futures, team members say they’ve developed a brotherhood and lifelong friendships.

The team also thanked parent volunteer, Damon Akers for his guidance and many contributions to the season. While Bell’s competition season is over, the team hopes to participate in another drone competition in the spring. To keep up with Azle High School’s drone team follow Hornet Drones on Facebook.