A team of students with a trophy on a stage
The SMART UC Davis team accepts its awards for air mobility innovation and sustainability at the CITRIS Aviation Prize on Monday, April 29. (Courtesy of NASA)

UC Davis Team Wins Awards for Air Mobility Innovation, Sustainability at CITRIS Aviation Prize

On April 29, a team of undergraduate students from the University of California, Davis, was among four teams vying for the 2023-24 CITRIS Aviation Prize, presenting proposals to a panel of academic and industry judges at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.  

Their project, Sustainable Multi-Campus Air Rapid Transport, or SMART, UC Davis, earned two $3,000 awards sponsored by Lenovo: one for excellence in air mobility innovation and another for sustainability.  

The student design competition was organized by CITRIS Aviation, a research initiative of the multicampus, interdisciplinary Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banato Institute, or CITRIS, at the University of California. 

This year was the second iteration of the competition, and it challenged student teams to develop detailed designs for air mobility infrastructure that could serve as the basis for a campus-to-campus transportation system for the University of California. 

The technology needed to be at least three times faster than ground transportation, easy to connect to other University of California campuses and deployable within the next five years — at least in theory. The contest requirements stressed energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the designs, as well as sustainability and minimal environmental impact. 

The UC Davis team, led by mechanical engineering major Jordan King, comprised 11 undergraduate students across the engineering disciplines, including mechanical and aerospace engineering, computer science and materials science and engineering. Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Camli Badrya served as the faculty advisor.  

The SMART UC Davis project proposed using electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft that can fly to campus in low altitudes with minimal noise pollution. The aircraft would be used in conjunction with existing transportation methods like buses and bicycles.  

Part of their proposal included converting the Memorial Union parking structure to support elevated landing and takeoff areas and charging stations and installing solar panels on the rooftop of the nearby Hickey Gym to generate electricity to support the aircraft. 

King says the experience had him venturing out of his academic comfort zone and has taught him new skills that will stay with him when he enters the workforce. 

“This was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to be a leader for something like this,” said King. “All of us will walk away with valuable skills when it comes to applying the knowledge we learned in school to a real-world setting.” 

For Badrya, the real prize here is seeing her students work as a team to solve complex engineering problems.  

“Engaging in competitions like the CITRIS Aviation Prize provides our students with an exciting journey. It's a playground of challenges that pushes them to work collaboratively, think critically and come up with innovative solutions rooted in the principles of engineering and science. What makes this experience truly beautiful is their discovery of interdependence, realizing that the collective genius of the team exceeds the sum of its individual parts.”  

Read about the winners of the CITRIS Aviation Prize

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