Teen Coders Triumph in National Drone Coding Contest

Del Norte and Westview High School Students Excel in STEM Challenge

In a remarkable display of skill and innovation, two 15-year-old students, Austin Zhang from Del Norte High School and Albert Li from Westview High, have clinched the beginner level title at the 2023 STEM-ED National Drone Coding Competition. Their victory in this challenging contest not only showcases their coding prowess but also highlights the growing importance of STEM .

Mastering the Art of Drone Coding

The competition tasked participants with programming a drone to perform intricate tasks such as separating balloons by color and picking out tennis balls among them. Zhang and Li reportedly excelled in these tasks, completing them faster and with greater accuracy than their rivals, earning them a $250 prize.

Despite the financial outlay exceeding $400 for supplies, including a drone and entry fees, the duo viewed the contest as a valuable learning experience rather than a monetary gain. Zhang found joy in overcoming coding challenges and physical obstacles, notably the wind, which initially disrupted their drone's flight in a parking lot trial. Undeterred, they adapted by relocating to Li's backyard to complete the task within a 25-square-foot area.

Overcoming Challenges and Embracing Learning

Li particularly enjoyed refining the program to accurately identify colors, emphasizing the fun and educational aspect of the competition. The friends, who have known each other since they were five, entered the contest to deepen their understanding of coding as they consider future studies and career paths.

Teen Coders Triumph In National Drone Coding Contest 2

The Competition Journey

The STEM-ED National Drone Coding Competition is designed to give students practical experience in programming and flying drones. Competitors use a DJI Tello drone and have a few months to learn the skills needed to complete specific tasks. In the initial round, teams like “AA Battery” – the moniker chosen by Zhang and Li – submitted their code and presented their work to a panel of judges. Success in the early stages led to the final demonstration of the drone's abilities through video submissions.

Preparation and Future Aspirations

To prepare, the teens utilized online mentoring, self-taught methods, and parental assistance, building on their existing interest in robotics. Zhang notes that flying a drone presents a greater challenge than robotics due to the 3-D movement, compared to the 2-D motion of robots.

Having secured a national title, Zhang and Li are already eyeing the next level of competition, planning to repurpose their remaining supplies for a more advanced challenge. Their success not only highlights their personal achievements but also serves as an inspiration for other students exploring the fascinating intersection of technology, coding, and robotics.

Photos courtesy of Sophie Li.

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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