| 03.21.2018

Getting this club off the ground — New club at UI will allow students to race, customize, program drones

Soon there might be more than just footballs flying through the air in the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome.

Daniel Bechtel, a technology support specialist at UI, has been passionate about drones for quite some time, and has recently decided to bring his passion to students. He said he wants to create a club that would allow students to work with drones and eventually race them competitively.

“The idea really came from the fact that currently, the University of Idaho doesn’t really have a place or program for students to fly quadcopters,” Bechtel said. “It is one of the fastest growing motor sports in the nation.”

Bechtel said the club could compete in drone racing on a university level, but it could also grow to compete with other schools as well.

“We could almost turn it into a sporting event. We could actually become a part of the National Drone Racing League — to where the Kibbie Dome would be one of the arenas,” Bechtel said.

This program has the ability to build itself up with enough student interest, Bechtel said. It would initially begin as a club that could compete at races. But it could have the possibility of developing into a class at the university, he said.

When Bechtel first thought of the idea for the club, he reached out to Rob Anderson, the USS Director of the Kibbie Dome at UI.

“He said, ‘This could absolutely expand to have a student club that could ultimately lead to our own Vandal drone racing league,’” Bechtel said.

The Kibbie Dome stands as a perfect environment for drone racing, because of its year-round capability and contained space, Bechtel said.

Members of the club have the opportunity to engage with other students and programs on campus as well. Bechtel said UI has 3D printers that would allow students to print extra parts for their drones, making them customizable.

“We actually have some departments on campus that have their own 3D printers, and from those you could load in designs and build your own parts,” Bechtel said.

The aviation aspect of the club could further students’ knowledge of aircrafts and aviation that may not have been possible for them before, Bechtel said. Bechtel’s dedication to the program stems from more than just a hobby.

“The whole idea for the program came from a real passion and love for flight,” Bechtel said. “I had originally wanted to be in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, and once I discovered I couldn’t do that, I wanted to work on the planes.”

He said he became invested in drones when he was 22, starting with a small store-bought drone, and has since upgraded to a bigger model capable of racing.

Bechtel said he hopes at some point students won’t have to pay for their own drones, but the university may be able to apply for grants that would fund the purchase of drones for the club.

This program offers more to students than just an opportunity to fly drones, Bechtel said. With drones becoming such a big part of society, it can open doors in several career paths.

“This is getting incorporated into everything,” Bechtel said. “If you were to throw out a random subject, there’s probably a way that a drone could fit in there somehow.”

This club would not only be for students in technology-based majors and fields, it would benefit students from all different interests and majors, Bechtel said.

A video has been created by Andrew Brand that contains more information about the club on The Argonaut’s YouTube channel.

Nicole Etchemendy can be reached a arg-news@uidaho.edu


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