Published: Feb. 17, 2023 By

DROPS UAV on the ground
Above: The DROPS uncrewed aerial vehicle on the ground with a cargo box underneath.
Header Image: Team DROPS enjoying the great outdoors.

Team DROPS has earned first place in the 2023 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech International Student Conference for their senior design project.

DROPS, which stands for Drone Recharging Operational Payload System, received top honors in the student team category at SciTech. The team developed an autonomous cargo delivery system for uncrewed aerial vehicles that is capable of dropping off and picking up drone cargo without the need for human intervention.

“It’s very exciting and shows that all the work that the team put in paid off,” said Cody Watson, the team’s project manager. “The work wasn’t in vain. People at SciTech were amazed at what we did. It was exciting feeling that sense of validation!”

The student paper competition consisted of two major components: one written and one presented. The authors of the submitted paper included Nate Kuczun (Systems Engineer), Caroline Dixon (Test Engineer), and Watson.

The additional members of the 12-person team included Mia Abouhamad, Sid Arora, Ben Capeloto, Ian Chakraborty, Dominic Dougherty, Rafael Figueroa, Daniel GutierrezMendoza, Alex Karas, and Joshua Schmitz.

 “This design is something that hasn’t been done before,” Watson said. “There are UAV delivery services, but we wanted to pull the human out of the loop. There are no instances of a UAV reliably capturing cargo. We were hoping to set that standard and be the first to do it.”

The team also won first place at the AIAA Region V student competition earlier in 2022, earning them a slot at the SciTech International Conference.

Watson was chosen by the team to represent them at the Region V competition and SciTech. At the International Conference, he gave a 20-minute presentation and answered questions from a panel of three judges. DROPS was competing against five teams that had won other AIAA regional competitions from locations all around the world.

The project was sponsored by TB2 Aerospace, a startup founded by Hank Scott, a lecturer in the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. Scott is now pursuing venture capital funding to further the design with the goal of eventual commercialization.

“Hank pushed us to the very limit, and I think we produced a phenomenal result,” Watson said. “I’m so thankful to Hank for his vision, Dr. Jade Morton for her drive to push us above and beyond, AIAA for the opportunity, and the rest of the team for making all this possible.”

This is the second time a CU Boulder student team has won the national SciTech student team award. In 2017, Team ELSA earned first place for their proof-of-concept Europa lander project.

Additional Photos

Cody Watson giving the presentation at SciTech. Only one team member may present at the competition, so Watson flew solo.

Completing a manual connection and alignment demo on their project.

Team members taking part in an induction charging test.