EL PASO, Texas (April 29, 2019) -- The west Texas wind was no match for the four undergraduate student teams who flew their unmanned aerial vehicles to victory during the U.S. Army's inaugural HBCU/MI Design Competition held at the University of Texas at El Paso's Sun Bowl Stadium, April 23-24.
Six students and a faculty adviser representing InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico placed first in the UAV competition, outscoring 10 other teams and earning the top prize of $5,000.
The local favorites from the University of Texas at El Paso placed second, receiving a $4,000 prize, and the student team representing University of Illinois -- Chicago placed third, taking home the $3,000 prize.
Spelman College rounded out the winning teams, taking fourth place and the $2,000 prize.
Led by the U.S. Army Futures' Combat Capabilities Development Command, the competition challenged 11 undergraduate student teams from historically black colleges and universities and other minority serving institutions (HBCUs/MIs) to develop solutions to real-world technical challenges faced by U.S. Army researchers in the area of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones.
"We designed this competition to showcase what goes on in the education and development of students at HBCUs and minority serving institutions," said Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, CCDC commander. "We know there is talent everywhere across the United States, and we want to tap into that for the Army."
According to Wins, the competition served as an opportunity for CCDC to introduce undergraduate students to the unique scientific and technical challenges the Army faces, as well as the opportunities offered by the Army including scholarships, internships, and a career serving the nation out of uniform.
"The success of future Army science and technology depends on the next generation of diverse, highly competent STEM professionals," Wins said. "It starts with inspiring students to tackle complex challenges through competitions like this."
More than 1,000 local El Paso middle and high school students cheered on the competitors as each team used their 10-minute flight block to maneuver their UAV through a series of challenges on the course, including the unforgiving winds blowing through the stadium.
During the competition, the middle and high school students also had the chance to visit a tech expo featuring more than 20 exhibits displaying current and future Army technologies and UTEP science, technology, engineering and math programs.
The U.S. Army HBCU/MI Design Competition began in 2018 when CCDC sent out a call for proposals to universities across the country that had to address one of two real-world Army UAV challenges: one related to eliminating wire bundles and a second related to replacing parts with biologically-based materials.
Those proposals were evaluated by CCDC subject matter experts and narrowed down to the 11 team finalists. Each team received an $8,000 grant to cover travel costs to El Paso for the poster session and flight demonstration. Just $500 could be used to build a UAV prototype. Mentors from CCDC and its Army Research Laboratory helped students refine their design and ensure their UAV was flight worthy.
The judging panel, comprised of CCDC senior leaders, judged the student teams on their ability to describe the details of their design, how well it addressed one of the proposed Army challenges, their plan for how it could be commercialized for Army use, and the success of their flight demonstration.
Before the winning teams were announced following the end of the competition, Wins congratulated all 11 teams on their accomplishments and acknowledged that the future of American innovation was sitting in the room.
"No matter the outcome of the competition, you are successful in your own right," Wins said. "You all are a great example of the power of sharp minds."
The top four winning teams of the inaugural HBCU/MI Design Competition represented the following colleges and universities:
- 1st Place-- InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico
- 2nd Place-- University of Texas at El Paso
- 3rd Place-- University of Illinois -- Chicago
- 4th Place-- Spelman College
The remaining seven team finalists who competed in the inaugural HBCU/MI Design Competition represented the following universities (listed in alphabetical order):
- Grambling State University
- North Carolina A&T State University
- Tuskegee University
- University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
- University of Puerto Rico -- Mayaguez
- University of Texas at Arlington
- University of Texas at San Antonio
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), formerly known as the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), has the mission to provide the research, engineering, and analytical expertise to deliver the capabilities that enable the Army to deter and, when necessary, decisively defeat any adversary now and into the future. CCDC collaborates across the Future Force Modernization Enterprise and its own global network of domestic and international partners in academia, industry and other government agencies to accomplish this mission under the strategic vision of the Army Futures Command.