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The Cane Institute Drone Squads Sweep National Competition


by JONATHAN FRAYSURE | Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Four teams from The Cane Institute for Advanced Technologies (TCI) at FAU Lab Schools recently competed at the Drones in School National Competition in Denver for the first time, taking first through fourth place among middle school squads.

“Six Degree Drone Racing” took top honors, followed by “Lift-OFF,” “P.I.C.” and “FastSpeeds,” respectively, topping the invited field of 12 national middle school teams that also participated.

While nine TCI teams qualified for nationals, only the top four made the trip. Immediate success at the highest level of competition is a byproduct of considerable student interest in this brand-new program, said Allan Phipps, director of TCI and coordinator of ADHUS K-12 District STEM.

“We offered an aerospace class for the first time for our middle school students and the interest was just phenomenal,” Phipps said. “We had more than 70 students sign up saying they wanted this course, which is one-third of our middle school population. So, almost 1 in 3 students are in this aerospace class.”

A complementary off-shoot of the event was the location and tie-in to the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) XPONENTIAL 2023. It also helped students see first-hand the types of employment in this industry.

“Being there on the conference floor at this competition exposed the students to so many job opportunities that they wouldn’t have really thought of had they not seen it in person,” Phipps said. “That was worth the price of admission just to get the students exposed to just the hundreds and hundreds of different job opportunities in the aerospace and autonomous vehicle market.”

With $1 million in drones on the floor of the conference, ADHUS students also were exposed to fixed wings, quadcopters, hecticopters and other unique models.

“I skipped attending the FLYRA Middle School State Track & Field Championship to attend this competition and I couldn't be happier with my decision because it opened my eyes to a broad horizon of future opportunities in technology,” said Leah Forman, an eighth-grade student at ADHUS and Lift-OFF team member. “The competition and conference were so much better than I could have imagined.”

Phipps also highlighted that the unique partnership between TCI and Florida Power & Light could have an indelible impact on the students’ futures.

“Florida Power & Light is a huge supporter of our program and a huge supporter of FAU, and one of the things they have identified as a big need is drone pilots and drone engineers,” he said. “As they transition to using drones for powerline inspections or for risk management surveys after storms, it’s much easier and faster to send drones up to identify downed powerlines and to identify areas that need an immediate response, than it is to try and drive streets that may be blocked after a hurricane. They’re all in on drones trying to support the STEM pipeline for encouraging students to go into aerospace, so this program really fits.”

TCI’s success isn’t limited to just drones. Another group of students also recently traveled to the 2023 International SeaPerch Challenge, hosted by the University of Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., where three teams competed in underwater robotics. The top TCI team in this worldwide competition, the SeaOwls’ “Ir8e Pir8tes,” finished 16th out of more than 50 groups.

“It was awesome to just have the light bulbs lit up and the kids on fire about seeing what’s out there in the future for them,” said Phipps. “Some amazing, amazing trips and we did well. We know we’ve got a winning formula, and we’ve got a super supportive administration. I just want to give a huge thank you to the administration for their support in allowing the students to go and represent the school, The Cane Institute program and FAU on these stages.”

Drones in School National Competition

Six Degree Drone Racing Alex De Andrade, Mason DeSiato, Arish Dotiwala, Preston Hoover, Benjamin Slive, Julian Slive
Lift-OFF Zoey Agh, Leah Forman, Arianna Lian
P.I.C. Jacob Antoun, Savannah Cipyak, Cameron Klopfer, Alana Pugatch, Lucas Santiago, Layna Sigelakis, Ellen Vance
FastSpeeds Aaron Estenos, Spencer Frankel, Gustavo Marrero Fuste, Lars Wiik

International SeaPerch Challenge

SeaOwls Ir8e Pir8tes Hudson Harr, John Weber
SeaOwls SunRays Zoe Agh, Leah Forman, Alana Pugatch, Julia Reynolds
SeaOwls Ocean Dwellers Tor Amundson, Navraj Dhillon, Preston Hoover, Ben Liu


Founded by Dan Cane,  The Cane Institute  serves as the epicenter for research, education, and technology transfer for A.D. Henderson & FAU High School. The Institute's integrated approach to solving society's most challenging problems engages the best and brightest students, faculty, and resources at A.D. Henderson & FAU High School to explore today's most complex challenges in areas such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, automation, and artificial intelligence.