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For second time in four years, UND plays host to top guns of collegiate drone racing

Darting, dizzying drones were all the buzz in early April as the University of the North Dakota played host to the 2022 Collegiate Drone Racing Championship (CDRC) at the Fritz Pollard Jr. Athletics Center.

Forty-seven of the nation’s top guns in collegiate drone racing made their way north to Grand Forks for this year’s event. In the end when the air was clear, it was the pilots of Georgia Tech who came out on top with a repeat as overall champions. Georgia Tech also was victorious last year, when the event was run as a virtual tournament, due to the pandemic. Coming in second, this year, was the team from Northeastern University, followed by Embry Riddle Daytona in third place.

The UND team, known as the “Rotohawks” ended up middle of the pack this year, with a sixth-place finish among the field of 11 collegiate drone-racing schools. Other participating schools were Air Force Academy, Purdue, Oregon State, University of Central Florida, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech and York College of Pennsylvania.

Event organizers expect to have official standings, including pilot breakdowns and stats, posted later this week.

UND has now hosted the CDRC twice in the past four years.  And after a successful second run in Grand Forks, Jordan Krueger, a UND pilot and event organizer, said UND will now hand the baton to someone else to host next year’s championship. UND, which last hosted an in-person drone racing championship in 2019, has set the bar high for any future host of the event.

“This year’s championship truly set a standard for collegiate championships to come for many years,” Krueger said. “I had many pilots come up to me saying this is the best put together event they have ever been a part of in over eight years of drone racing, not to mention the most spectators they have seen attend an event like this.”

This year’s event at UND drew three times as many spectators as it did in 2019, according to UND organizers. The drone racing fans were treated to an array of interactive course features, such as a center-hung big screen, which allowed the public to get a pilot’s-eye view of the course as their drones zipped and zagged through challenging obstacles. Attendees also could get right in the thick of the action, inside a protected observation space, as drones buzzed in close proximity around them. A large “Kids’ Zone” with inflatables and other activities likewise was a big hit with families.

UND and its Fritz Pollard Jr. Athletics Center, which last hosted an in-person drone racing championship 2019, have set the bar high for any future hosts of the event. UND photo.

UND President Andrew Armacost paid a visit to the two-day event on Saturday, during the practice heats. Armacost made his way up and down the line of tables along the course sidelines, each one serving as a station for one of the participating schools. He made sure the first team he visited was the home team, followed by another of his old stomping grounds — Air Force Academy — where he spent 20 years of his career, most recently as Dean of Faculty, before coming to UND.

Day 1 also culminated with a tour of the UND Aerospace campus for the participating drone pilots as well as some networking opportunities.

Sunday — Day 2 of the event — saw more of the competitive racing, and a visit from North Dakota’s lone Congressman and UND alum, the Hon. Kelly Armstrong.

The event was organized, coordinated and managed by UND’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS).

But RIAS Executive Director Mark Askelson stressed it was all made possible by a total community- and campus-wide team effort; from the event sponsors to the Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Development to the UND RC Club, UND Aerospace, College of Engineering & Mines, UND Athletics and the Division of Marketing & Communications.

“We have something incredibly special both at UND and within our community,” Askelson said. “I am so thankful to everyone who helped make this a success, and I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to share this with the community.”