Baldwin High School team earns chance to defend Real World Design Challenge national title
At a work session Sunday, Abby Clem and Colton Horne went to the blackboard to diagram the best way to execute an aerial search of a triangular-shaped piece of land.
Clem and Horne, both seniors on Baldwin High School’s Real World Design Challenge Team, explained the search is central to this year’s challenge.
Somewhere on the land, which represents New Mexico’s Philmont Scout Ranch, is a lost Boy Scout. The team must find him as quickly and cheaply as possible, using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) the team designs.
Two weeks ago, team members -— Clem, Horne, senior Austin Kraus, sophomore Quint Heinecke and freshmen Jackson Barth and Kelsey Kehl — learned they had won the state competition, as Baldwin High School teams have done since the Real World Design Challenge was introduced in 2009. Team members will travel April 19-21 to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national competition designed to test students’ engineering and problem-solving skills.
Baldwin High teams won the national competition in 2010 and 2012 and finished third in 2011.
Clem, a member of last year’s championship team, said the competition this year was different.
“Last year, the emphasis was on the UAV’s design,” she said. “This year it’s more about the operational details of using our resources to find what cameras function best at a certain attitude and speed.”
With the new emphasis came new tools.
Pam Davis, Baldwin High School gifted instructor and team coach, said the team was provided a software program that allowed it to draw designs for transfer to its CAD design program.
“Austin (Kraus) and Kaitlyn (Barnes) spent hours doing the design on CAD,” Davis said. “The new software we’re using lets us do it a lot quicker. We don’t have to do all the design on CAD.”
Davis said the team requires a serious time commitment from members who also tend to be active in school. That can make it difficult for all the students to get together, even for weekend sessions.
The chance to work with new tools to solve engineering problems was the reason she signed on for another year, Clem said.
“The experience,” she said. “The trip is great but it takes so much work to get there for that to be the motivation. It’s the experience of working with the software and trying out engineering in a more real environment.”
The team submitted a 50-plus page notebook for the Kansas contest, compiled from the work of smaller teams specializing in such aspects as design, operations and a business plan. It must now improve on much of that for nationals.
Challenge teams were presented with a parts catalog to outfit their UAVs and their ground-based search teams, including cameras. The cameras start cheap and top out at $75,000. The expensive ones can do more and have better resolution, wider focal lengths and can take more frames per minute.
But Horne, who has applied to the U.S. Naval Academy, said the high-end cameras weren’t cost effective. The team has decided to use two cameras, a cheap model and a mid-priced one. The cheaper camera will make an initial pass to identify objects of interest, such as a “blob of blue,” and the better camera then will help make a final identification.
The team or its competitors won’t actually be building or flying their UAVs. All that will be done in computer simulations.
Clem said even if the UAV find the Boy Scout on the first run of the simulation, a total of 50 searches would be simulated. Again, the team must balance mission performance with cost effectiveness. Clem said the team’s 50 missions for the state contest cost an average of $1,474, a figure that included the cost of the UAV, its cameras and the personnel needed to operate it and monitor the search.
The task of putting together the business plan fell to him because he is the only team member to have taken a business class, Barth said.
The freshman will be asked to present his work at the national contest, Clem said.
“We always have the experts speak on their specialties,” she said. “I couldn’t stand up and speak on design. It’s important everyone speaks on what they are best at.
“It’s fun to be able to present on what you have done. But that can be a nerve-wracking time.”
The experience gained in those presentations, the second made in the three-team championship round, should give the Baldwin team an advantage in April, Clem said.
“Austin has been to the finals four years,” she said. “The edge for us is having so many years experience as a team. We know what it takes to get it done.”
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