Team Phoenix of the Highland Academy Real World Design Challenge team recently won the state championship for the sixth year in a row.

The team will represent the state of Alaska during the national challenge in Washington D.C. in April. The first and the second place teams in the United States will compete against the top two teams from China. 

The highest finish Highland Academy Charter School ever finished was third, and students feel this year could be different.

"We have yet to be first or second," Highland Academy senior Victoria Rahm said. "Every year we keep progressing. If we continue at the pace we've been on over these past few years, I feel this year we could definitely be in the top three."

The challenge is to design a drone or an Unmanned Aerial System to more efficiently solve a problem the world is currently facing. The problems typically involve the agricultural industry and the many uses of UAS technology on the field. This year, the challenge is to design a UAV that can surpass two of the current leading agricultural UAVs. 

For the past six months, the six-student team has been working together when possible to develop an all-purpose craft they named "Rival" that can out-do both of the current UASs not only in performance but as a better option financially for the average American farmer.

"When we started out, we wanted to make this look like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars," freshman Gabriel Blanco said. "Then, upon realizing the weight and balance and all the different factors like the liquid sloshing around-- that, that wouldn't work."

The Rival is designed to carry 11 liters of pesticide and survey crops for possible damage from 400 feet in the air. The Rival can cover a total 37,760 acres of bug-infested land before running out of battery, perform both tasks in one unit, and complete all of the required missions in a reasonable amount of time. And, it's relatively cheaper than buying two UAVs for crop dusting and surveying. 

"At first we discussed ideas that we had," Blanco said. "When class was over, we would go home and draw out our ideas and design and then present it to the rest of the team. We looked at each other's designs and decided what was good and ones we could not use. Then, we morphed everything together through the standards we have to follow. Then we got to work on our design after that."

The national competition will allow the team from Alaska to bring home more than just a trip to our nation's capital.

"It's really cool working here, but going to a national level adds a whole new aspect," Rahm said. "We get to compete with other teams and see their solutions and we can gather new ideas for next year. So, every time that I went there, we take notes, we talk to the students and we develop these relationships with people."

"We feel it's important to let everybody know that we are representing the state of Alaska at a national competition," Blanco said. "In some respects, it might be international because some regions of China will be competing as well. We feel it is really important."

The students need help raising the $8,000 in funds needed for their registration fee, food, travel and hotel stay in D.C. which is due by March 12. They have set up a GoFundMe page which can be found here.

For more information on the Real World Design Challenge, click here.

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