Harrisburg charter students design drone for international competition


High school students at Commonwealth Charter Academy in Harrisburg already know a thing or two about drones.

“Our design is pretty cool. We went with an octocopter design, so it’s got eight props, and then it uses a multispectral camera so it has different wavelengths that it can film at,” said 11th grader Timothy Cribbs.

The team is prepping for the Real World Design Challenge, an international STEM competition. This year’s mission is to design an unmanned aircraft to survey vegetation and help stop pollution.

“It gives you a lot of information about the plants, and it’ll tell you the chlorophyll levels, the water levels, how stressed the plants are, and so you can give that all back to the city in a nice easy picture,” said Cribbs.

A state competition win, several months, and hundreds of hours of design work later, the students are getting ready to appear at the April 13 competition in Washington, D.C. The team got to work firsthand with a local drone pilot on Wednesday. 

“They were asking my input, so I’m telling them what would be good, what wouldn’t be good,” said Chris Ryan, the president and CEO of ACE Drone Services.

“We need to make sure that it can fly, that it’s not going to crash, all those little small minute details, all between, which take quite a while,” said 11th grader Alisher Aminov.

And their work so far: awe-inspiring.

“There are a lot of companies out there who can’t, who haven’t designed half the stuff that they’re designing,” said Ryan.

Each student on the winning international team wins a $50,000 scholarship from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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