Collegiate drone racers compete for national championship in Grand Forks

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Drone pilots from 23 universities across the country were in Grand Forks over the weekend to compete in the national collegiate drone racing championship.

Drone racing has attracted thousands of participants around the world in the past five years.

Drone racing isn't yet an official collegiate sport, but about 60 pilots representing 23 university club teams were set to compete and learn about the drone industry at the University of North Dakota.

"It's not just practicing flying and then flying and racing. It's building (the drone) and having an intrinsic systems knowledge. You have to know the aircraft inside and out so when you crash you're able to fix it. So, it really turns it into an academic sport as well as a serious competitive sport," UND senior and racer Jordan Krueger said ahead of the event.

Competitors had an opportunity to meet with drone industry officials and see the latest technology.

"So it's more than just racing, it's actually an opportunity to change students career path," said Krueger.

Drone racing at the collegiate level is still developing. Krueger estimates there are about 300 drone racing pilots at universities across the country, but many lack resources to compete in a sport where the equipment can cost a couple of thousand dollars.

"Really it's gonna take university initiative from every single school to make that happen, and we're trying to get the word out and make it bigger and better," he said. "You know, give them ideas, give them help, give them anything they need to expand this and take it to a whole other level."

Collegiate drone racing competitions have been held for two years at Purdue University, but Krueger said he hopes by adding an academic and industry component to the competition the event can be more valuable for students in the future.

"We're taking the event and expanding on it," he said. "This is laying a foundation for many, many future events and we want to take this drone racing championship, make it happen every year and expand on it into other bigger areas, bringing in research grants, really going more toward the academic side."