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NewsTribune photo/Kim Shute Princeton High School tech club members (foreground) Luke Gleason, Elliot Beetz and Jacob Gleason discuss design concepts presented by Josh Wray and Ian Nichols during a recent tech club meeting. The tech club beat out about 50 other teams from Illinois high schools, vocational schools and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math schools to win the state competition with their drone design for the PTC 'Real World Design Challenge.' Their next step is the national finals in Washington D.C. in November where they will compete against other state and international winners for a chance at a $50,000 college scholarship.
What is the European Corn Borer and why is it dangerous?
European corn borer caterpillars damage the ears and stalks of corn by chewing tunnels, which cause the plants to fall over. The corn borer attacks field corn, sweet corn and popcorn.
Between 2 percent and 5.5 percent of corn yield can be affected depending on the stage of growth it’s at during the infestation. PHS tech team estimates an Illinois farmer with 15 acres could save up to $30,000 per season with early detection.
PRINCETON — By the time you’ve had your morning coffee and cornflakes, the Princeton High School Technology Club already is hard at work refining the design of the drone that won them a spot at the PTC ‘Real World Design Challenge’ national finals in Washington, D.C.
PHS industrial technology teacher Tim Ciesielski started the technology club just last year for the specific purpose of entering the Real World Design Challenge sponsored by Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) in Massachusetts. The challenge, an annual competition open to U.S. and international high schools, vocational schools and STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) schools, challenges teams to come up with a real world solution for a problem faced by leading U.S. industries. In other words, these high school students are getting a real, firsthand taste of what future careers in engineering will be like.
This year, seven PHS sophomores and juniors who make up the tech club were challenged to design an unmanned aircraft capable of early detection of the European corn borer. But designing the aircraft turned out to be just a small part of the challenge.
“What was most interesting is how well-rounded it is,” said project manager Josh Wray. “We thought it would be about design, but we had to also do budgeting, analysis, a business plan — it’s a lot more involved than we imagined.”
Ciesielski said his first challenge was selecting the right students for the project. The contest is limited to teams of seven and teachers aren’t part of that team.
“As the mentor, I’m not supposed to do any of the work — I just lead them,” he said.
The team got together last year to work on challenges from previous years to get a feel for the competition and by fall they were ready to get started on their drone. This is no slapdash operation either — they have a project manager, chief engineer, design engineer, operation systems manager, an agriculture specialist, an I.T. and science specialist and a senior systems engineer. Through the program, they gain access to $1 million in software provided by the challenge. In addition, a benefactor provided a 3-D printer that they hope to be able to use to manufacture models of their design when they present in Washington D.C.
They also have the support of engineers at LCN in Princeton. One of the parameters of the challenge was for each team to bring in outside mentors and the tech club found those during a manufacturing expo last fall at LCN.
LCN human resources manager Sarah Krisch said some of the students approached them after the expo and wanted to come back and meet with engineers there. “They started talking about the project and needed to learn more about computer systems and project management so they spent some time here with out engineers and project managers.”
The students also consulted with Dr. Brando Buerge at Wichita State University who specializes in lighter-than-air aircraft or “basically a blimp” said Ciesielski.
Clayton Zelenik, the team’s I.T. and science specialist, said the team came up with their concept after some trial and error. “At first we had a four-propeller drone, but we realized it would be too hard to manufacture. Then we went with a blimp that could easily maneuver around the corn.”
In November, the team will travel to Washington to make their presentation, competing against winners from other states and countries that made it to nationals. Each member of the winning team will receive a $50,000 scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Jacob Gleason, design engineer, said the idea behind the challenge is that the product coming from the project is something that could be made and used in real life. Said Elliott Beetz, senior systems engineer for the project, “The idea is to sell it to a company like Pioneer and they can rent it out to farmers.”
If that doesn’t work out, the group has a back-up plan; the five juniors on the team will do work study with LCN next year to get a jump start on their engineering careers. That is, if they’re not already busy with their next challenge.
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