Lehigh Hosts ‘Defend the Republic’ Drone Competition at Mountaintop

Teams from eight universities compete in an event held for the first time at Lehigh.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Videography by

Jeff Hartney/The Production Pocketknife LCC

In an event designed to drive research and innovation, teams from Lehigh and seven other universities across the country competed Nov. 15-17 in the Defend the Republic drone competition, held for the first time at Lehigh in High Bay C2 on the Mountaintop Campus.

In addition to Lehigh, the teams represented George Mason University, University of Florida, Baylor University, West Virginia University, Indiana University, Virginia Tech and Drexel University. After qualifying, the teams competed in a Quidditch-like game in which autonomous robots vied to capture floating helium balloons and deliver them to the opponent’s goal.

drone competition

The teams competed in a Quidditch-like game in which autonomous robots vied to capture floating helium balloons and deliver them to the opponent’s goal.

“What a thrill it is for me and for all of us here at Lehigh to be able to host this incredible competition,” said Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82, addressing the engineers, aspiring engineers, mathematicians and scientists who composed the interdisciplinary teams.

Helble also welcomed students from two area school districts who came to watch the finals and interact with participants. Also attending the finals were Lehigh Provost Nathan Urban and Stephen DeWeerth, dean of Lehigh’s P.C. College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The competition, held twice a year at universities across the country, aims to drive research and innovation in vehicle design, multi-agent control, swarm behaviors and communication.

Helble, himself an engineer, pointed out that the competition was “not just meeting a design challenge but having to deal with all of the unknowns—the unknown unknowns that emerge in the face of a competition where you have adversaries with adversarial intent, competitors who are trying to challenge you and wreak havoc with your plans.”

Lehigh made it to the final round on Nov. 17, teaming up with Indiana University for a competition against Baylor, Florida and George Mason universities, who won.

Defend the Republic drone competition

Teams from Lehigh and seven other universities competed in the Defend the Republic drone competition held at Lehigh for the first time.

In addition to advancing research, the competition allowed Lehigh to showcase its SwarmsLab and High Bay C2, where the event was held. “This space is the equivalent of a National Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship venue,” Helble proudly told the visiting teams, adding that the university hopes to continue to host such competitions.

The mood was jubilant, as team members mingled with viewers after the competition to answer questions about the robots and the research behind them.

“This has been an amazing week,” said David Saldaña, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Lehigh. Saldaña leads Lehigh’s SwarmsLab and is a member of its Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics (AIR) Lab.

drone competition

Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble '82congratulated the interdisciplinary teams who met the challenges of the competition.

The drone competition illuminated the goals in Lehigh’s Strategic Plan, Inspiring the Future Makers—to Make it New, Make a Difference and Make it Together. The 10-year plan outlines a bold vision for the university that is centered around breaking boundaries to address societal challenges, innovating in academics and research, and cultivating collaborations and partnerships to build community and amplify Lehigh’s global, national and regional impact. Lehigh aims to transform the Mountaintop campus into a vital resource for the community as part of the plan.

The Lehigh team that participated in the drone competition had 14 student members and one faculty member who work in all the areas of robotics, including programming and mathematics. The team works especially on designing and building robots.

In time, Saldaña and team members said, the drones could be used for tasks such as drone deliveries to remote areas that are possibly affected by natural disasters. The work could also help in search and rescue efforts.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Videography by

Jeff Hartney/The Production Pocketknife LCC

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