For eight students in The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Engineering, being part of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program offered by the NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR) represents the realization of lofty academic research aspirations.
But having the opportunity to showcase that aptitude on a more prominent stage takes that notion to new heights.
The octet — Kristtian Busquets, John Gamboa, Rocio Lopez Terrazas, Moises Navarro, Zack Nieto, Dania Orozco, Jacquelin Prieto and Richard Reyes — comprise the UTEP team that will compete against 10 other universities during the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s (CCDC) inaugural student UAV design competition Tuesday, April 23, and Wednesday, April 24, 2019, at Sun Bowl Stadium. (See an event map of Sun Bowl Stadium.)
Organizers offered the competition challenge to more than 1,700 U.S. universities before the top 11 were selected to travel to El Paso for the finals. Each team will present its concepts and fly prototypes that address UAV technology gaps based on real-world challenges faced by Army researchers.
“I feel very grateful to be a part of this team and to be able to represent UTEP in this competition,” said Dania Orozco, a senior mechanical engineering major. “The U.S. Army selecting UTEP reflects the good job professors do in bringing assets to UTEP and that’s why we have to do a good job to back up all the professors’ hard work.”
To prepare for the competition, the scope of which has evolved in advance of the flight date, Orozco and her fellow undergraduates have engaged in various aspects of drone engineering that are enhanced by the individual strengths of the interdisciplinary group. Within the team there are five students from mechanical engineering, two from electrical engineering and one from industrial engineering. Together, they have conducted soldering, 3D printing, safety analysis and other tasks. As the competition date nears, the meshing of disciplines among the team has intensified out of necessity.
“In the beginning, we were pretty separate. It was ‘If you know this about your field, then you work on that,’” said Nieto, a senior mechanical engineering major. “Quickly as it got to crunch time, we realized we had to start combining our efforts. Now we have people working on circuits that have never done soldering before. So, everyone is starting to learn and work together. This is giving us a real fast and hard example of how we will have to work when we enter the industry as professionals.”
Michael McGee, Ph.D., a research associate for cSETR, has overseen the students’ work for the past several months. He said the competition offers a venue to demonstrate the quality of UTEP’s engineering students, and presents a tremendous opportunity to showcase the importance of students in the campus’ progress on critical future technology.
he faculty adviser team of Dr. Francisco Medina, Dr. Virgilio Gonzalez and Dr. Eric Smith, along with our cSETR students involved in the permanent UTEP UAV research programs, did an outstanding job of assisting this new team of accomplished engineering students as they worked to quickly advance their knowledge. This event gives the Army and other industries a closer look at the next generation of diverse, highly competent STEM professionals through a competition that challenges them to propose solutions to real technological challenges,” said McGee, who has led cSETR’s work in unmanned aerial systems since January 2018.
Those opportunities are not solely relegated to upper-level undergraduate students.
Richard Reyes is a freshman electrical engineering major. His prowess with circuits and operating the drone in the air earned him a spot on the drone team. He said he is grateful for the chance to participate in this competition and added that it will bolster his experiences in the classroom.
“I am truly blessed and very excited to have this opportunity as a freshman to participate in this huge competition held at UTEP, a top tier research university,” Reyes said. “The work is quite fun and very exciting to see results of building your own drone with a group of people that represent UTEP. This is guiding me into aspects of aeronautics. I previously planned to go to graduate school to obtain my master’s in biomedical engineering, but I still have a long way to go to decide what I want to do.”
While Reyes’ decision is a distant thought, the time for the team to perform is near. And Prieto, a senior mechanical engineering major, said they are ready to represent the campus well.
“Being able to take part in this competition shows me that there are a lot of opportunities that UTEP offers to be able to grow as engineers and have more hands-on experience on projects outside of our coursework,” she said. “The fact that the competition is being held at UTEP shows how much work all of the staff and students have put in toward the growth and mobility of our campus. UTEP will be competing against some of the top universities in this country, and this is just another opportunity to put UTEP on the map once again.”
Author: Pablo Villa – UTEP Communications