Starting an Aerial Drone Competition Team

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Welcome

Coaching a competition robotics team is a rewarding experience. It may seem daunting at first, but the Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation provides tools and resources to give you everything you need for success.

Our Aerial Drone Competition support team members will become your best friend as you experience our programs.  Reach out directly to us any time you have questions by emailing us at drones@recf.org.

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Develop Your Team

There is no maximum number of students that can participate on a competition team. Students benefit most from a well-supported, hands-on learning experience, so identify the available resources and space when developing your team. If you have a lot of student interest, consider coordinating multiple teams. Once you've registered four Aerial Drone Competition teams in the same school/organization, there's no additional team registration fee until you grow to 23 teams or more.

  • Aerial Drone Competition Average Team Size: 3 - 5 students

Note: While there is no minimum number of students required for a team (i.e., you can have a team of one), teams will be at a disadvantage at competitions by not having a co-pilot and visual observer to assist the pilot in navigating the field.

You may want to recruit volunteers to help your team learn and practice concepts like programming, flight principles, documentation, and communication. Mentors help students increase their knowledge and skills, and are an important part of the learning process. Your team parents should be the first place to look, and they might be inspired to join you in support of the team. For more information about the amount and types of support that mentors can provide, please reference the RECF Student-Centered Policy and the article "Becoming an Aerial Drones Competition Coach".

Equipment for Your Team

Drones

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You will need at least one drone per Aerial Drone Competition Team.  For the 2023-2024 competition season there will be 3 (three) approved competition drones.

  • CoDrone EDU
  • CoDrone EDU (JROTC Edition; US designed and American Security Drone Act-compliant) - COMING SOON
  • Parrot Mambo (has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but is still legal for competition)

Computers and Internet

You will also need access to an internet-connected computer/device to utilize the online curriculum and programming resources.

Practice and/or Competition Fields  

The Aerial Drone Competition has two field layouts: one for the teamwork mission and one for the autonomous flight and piloting skills missions.  

Many teams will create their own practice field using elements found around the home and classroom.  Teams will use pool noodles, Hulu hoops, rope and boxes to create field to practice with until they have enough funds to purchase the official competition elements.

To set up an official competition field you will need:

  • Field Element Kit: Each kit includes the field elements you need to set up ONE field (either a teamwork or skills field).
    • This kit includes the 2 arch gates, 1 blackout screen, 2 keyhole gates, 2 landing pads, and 4 cubes used on a competition field at Aerial Drone Competitions. This equipment is reused every season.
  • Game Element Kit: Each kit includes the game elements for 1 teamwork field and 1 skills field. 
    • This kit includes the game elements for the 2023-2024 season that will be used on the Aerial Drone Competition Fields. These game elements will change each competition season.
  • PVC Perimeter
    • Purchase this from your local hardware store to create a field perimeter.

Field Element Kits and Game Element Kits are available for purchase at DroneCompetitionGates.com or on RobotEvents.com.

Above: Field Element Kit

Registering Your Team

Each season, you will need to register your team with the REC Foundation. To register your teams, follow the guidelines provided in the article Registering an Aerial Drones Competition Team. 

Plan Your Schedule

You should develop a meeting schedule that meets your team’s availability, needs, objectives, and resources and stick to it! For younger students, it may be helpful to limit meeting length to less than two hours. Some teams meet once or twice per week for a few hours, while others will meet more frequently and for longer periods of time. Teams benefit from the program in proportion to the time and effort they put into the program. As competitions approach, your team may decide to meet more frequently in order to better prepare for their participation in the competitions.

Plan Your Team Meetings

During the initial meetings, it is helpful for your team to develop a list of goals and a timeline for accomplishing these goals. Students should record these goals and deadlines in their competition logbook and assign someone on the team to keep track of progress. Using a planning process supports the development of your students' organizational, time management, and project management skills.

How Much Practice Space Do You Need?

Students need to test and practice with their drone, and they will need space to do that.  

It is very common for teams to set up their own obstacle courses for students to practice flying their drones using items you already have.  Hoops, pool noodles, boxes and desks can all be used to create practice space for flight.

If you have the space (and funds for a field), we do recommend setting up a up a full or partial Aerial Drone Competition Field before their first competitions, so students are comfortable with the layout. A fully set up Aerial Drone Competition field for the teamwork mission is approximately 20' x 20' and can fit in a gymnasium, cafeteria or even larger classroom. The Skills mission field is approximately 15' x 20'

Multiple teams in an organization tend to share a single field;  it’s common for a set of teams to practice on a field simultaneously.

Assign Team Roles

Teams can vary in size, and your team will be more productive if everyone is assigned roles. Consider rotating roles so that team members can learn and benefit from the full program experience. Assign or have the students choose roles that best fit their interests, skills, and needs. It is common for a student to perform more than one role on a team, and for multiple students to share a role.

Common Aerial Drone Team Roles:

  • Drone Pilots
  • Drone Co-pilots
  • Programmers
  • Visual Observers
  • Competition Logbook Documenter
  • Team Scout
  • Online Challenge competitors

Tip: Consider assigning backups for roles to sustain your team when an illness or schedule conflict occurs.

Develop a Team Identity

Developing a team identity can be a valuable, fun part of the team-building process. Your team members should use their creativity to establish their own unique identity, which can include choosing a team name, creating displays for your pit space, designing a team shirt, and creating a team cheer or song. The more you celebrate your team’s efforts and accomplishments, the easier it will be to engage other students and potential supporters that will help you build your team’s drone program.

Register for and Attend Events

Aerial Drone Competitions give your team a chance to demonstrate the work they've done on their drone, code, and Competition Logbook . Typical competitions include Autonomous Flight matches, Piloting teamwork matches, and interviews for judged awards. For details on how to register for and attend Aerial Drone Competition events, visit Aerial Drone Competition >  Competitions.