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Teen Inventors Tackle Viability of Commercial Drones

Forming a real company, creating a working prototype of a new multipurpose drone, making components from scratch, and getting electronics and software to work together is filled with seemingly unending difficulties.
Imagine doing all that as a high school student under the time constraints and pressure of being part of international competition.

Arjun Shah, Aditya Dhingra, Jimit Gosar, and Nithilan Kalidoss have been working together closely since August 2019 to develop Airlyft. That is the name the four students chose for their versatile drone that uses tractable wings to fly faster and longer as part of The Conrad Challenge.
The Conrad Challenge is a multi-phase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and entrepreneurship competition. It is so much more challenging than a science fair.
The students recorded a video presentation to pitch their business plan for Airlyft. This included market research, prototyping, and go-to-market plans. Then they answered a series of questions from a panel of judges.

High school student innovators (L-R) Nithilan Kalidoss (15), Arjun Shah (16), Jimit Gosar (17), and Aditya (Aadi) Dhingra (17), also called Team EcoAero, competed against high school teams from around the world at The Conrad Challenge, a multi-phase STEM & entrepreneurship competition, earning the top award for their product invention, Airlyft.

How It Worked

Prior to this competition project, each of the students had connected and participated in various projects together through the school district's drone club and robotics team. After coming across The Conrad Challenge, the students decided to work together to submit their own drone project.
For the competition, they chose the name EcoAero to identify their team. Along the way, they formed a company of the same name, built a website for information, and planned an eventual marketing strategy for their product.
Team EcoAero took the invention a step further by building a prototype of the drone to demonstrate its cutting edge retractable wings that help to ensure higher flight times and performance. As an effective solution to drone flight time issues, the students listed a variety of possibilities for its use including firefighting, package delivery, seed-based agriculture, fertilizer-based agriculture, surveillance, sanitation, and electrical land inspection.
This year's Challenge began in August 2019. Teams submitted their initial entry and worked on their investor pitch, which they completed in November.
Qualifying teams then advanced to the second round in mid-November and worked through mid-January to develop and refine a business plan, market study, and visual representation of their commercially viable solutions. Their products were then reviewed and scored by subject matter experts and judges before the finalist teams in each category were selected to present at the Innovation Summit.
The 2020 Virtual Innovation Summit, the final phase of the competition, took place from May 27-29 and included 37 international finalist teams who emerged from more than 600 teams that entered the Challenge in August 2019, from nine different countries.
At the Summit, team EcoAero shared their recorded power pitch to present their business plan for Airlyft, which included market research, prototyping, and go-to-market plans.
Team EcoAero was named Pete Conrad Scholars, the top award, at The Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit in the category of Aerospace & Aviation.

The Birth of Airlyft

The four students had been working independently in their spare time in the evenings and weekends. Their idea had evolved over the course of the year. They refined their ideas and incrementally made improvements, according to Jubin Gosar, faculty advisor and tech mentor.
Gosar, student Jimit's father, was invited to be their coach and mentor in January 2020 after the boys were selected as one of the five finalists in the aerospace category. He is a mentor on the school's robotics team.

"The prototype they built looks awesome. They felt really proud of the prototype and everything that they delivered for the Conrad Challenge," Jubin Gosar told.

The team worked with perseverance, even late into the night to be able to optimize the time and make the best of the situation, he added.
"They all have different career interests, but seeing them work together in spite of their different backgrounds makes me feel proud of them," he said.

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