UA engineering students compete in drone national championship

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two University of Alabama engineering students will put their drone flying skills to the test this weekend in the first-ever Collegiate Drone Racing National Championship.

Ben Fischer, freshman aerospace engineering student from Vestavia Hills, and Dylan Marcrum, sophomore mechanical engineering student from Appleton, Wisconsin, were accepted to compete in the collegiate national championship as two of 48 pilots representing 26 schools.

“We had to apply and send in an application video,” Marcrum said.

“They had a waiting list, and they picked the top 48 (pilots),” Fischer added.

From newbies to veterans, Fischer and Marcrum said the field is diverse. Some pilots are competing as individuals while 10 universities — UC Berkeley, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Tennessee Tech, the University of North Dakota and Purdue University — will have full teams consisting of two to five members.

All contending pilots built the drone they will use in competition. A course has been mapped out for the pilots to navigate including turns, checkpoints and obstacles the pilots have to maneuver going spends in excess of 60 mph. The UA students have been preparing for the past three weeks.

“This (drone) is all custom,” Marcrum said, who built a drone specifically for this competition. “Mine will draw over 100 amps at full throttle.”

Marcrum has been interested in drone racing for the past two years when he learned about the hobby watching online videos. Fischer said he picked up drone racing in December. The students want their team, called Ripping Tide, to grow next year as they work toward becoming an official competition team.

The national championship will be held Saturday at Purdue University, beginning with qualifying races from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the championship races following from 3 to 5 p.m. The qualifying races will have heats with eight pilots racing every five to six minutes. In the championship races, the field will be cut to 16 pilots who will compete in a double-elimination bracket.

The top three teams and the top three pilots will be awarded prizes consisting of $10,000 worth of gear, monitors, video goggles, video transmitters and other equipment.

The event will be live-streamed through FPVLive.tv.

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In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 4,500 students and more than 120 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.