DriveOhio Tapping Student Smarts Via Vertiport Challenge

To find new ways to implement air mobility networks, DriveOhio – a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation – is seeking to tap the science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM skills of students from across the state via its latest Vertiport Innovation Challenge.

[Above image via DriveOhio]

Organized in collaboration with the Mastery School of Hawken in northeast Ohio, this competition will place student teams with industry mentors to develop real-world drone delivery applications for healthcare, “middle mile,” and “last mile” networks.

Image via DriveOhio

The final proposal will not only pinpoint solutions, but also the aviation infrastructure needed to support operations, such as a network of vertiports or mobility hubs, in alignment with the Ohio Advanced Air Mobility Framework DriveOhio issued in August.

“As the state’s manufacturing footprint grows and transportation technology continues to advance, investing in Ohio’s emerging workforce is critical,” said Governor Mike DeWine (R) in a statement. “These science and technology-based outreach programs help prepare our next generation of leaders, showing our students that opportunities are limitless.”

Inspired by a recent Kroger drone delivery project, one team of students will brainstorm how to use small, uncrewed aircraft systems to deliver groceries and food. Another will tackle how electric vertical takeoff and landing or eVTOL aircraft could deliver critical medical supplies between hospitals, and a third team will focus on using eVTOLs to move cargo between logistics hubs.

Preeti Choudhary. Photo via DriveOhio.

“We already know that our investments in advanced air mobility today have the potential to grow Ohio’s mobility economy for decades to come, but that doesn’t happen without a robust and skilled workforce to support this rapidly-changing industry,” noted Preeti Choudhary, executive director of DriveOhio.

“Reaching students in the classroom and tapping into their passion is just another way to position Ohio for success in this space,” she said.

Several state departments of transportation are involved in similar air mobility research.

For example, in May 2021, five state and local government entities – including three state DOTs – signed agreements with NASA to study how cargo-carrying drones and passenger-carrying air taxis can best be included in local and regional civic transportation plans.

Additionally, in August, Governor Kevin Stitt (R) of Oklahoma and Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) of Arkansas held a joint press event to highlight their efforts to make the Oklahoma-Arkansas region a national hub for advanced mobility technology development.

Their collaborative effort seeks to boost support for the growth of the advanced mobility industry, which includes drones, electric and autonomous vehicles, battery manufacturing, and various transportation and logistics solutions.

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