Destler Talks Destler’s Challenge

Current President of RIT:  Dr. Bill Destler

As the first year of Imagine RIT came to a close in 2008, 17,000 visitors could testify to the uniquely innovative and creative spirit of RIT students, faculty and staff. They had perhaps thought they’d “seen it all”; however, one man’s imagination begged to take the showcase of Imagine RIT even further. “I got interested in electric vehicles, which is an interesting story in itself, but I basically thought they were a fraud,” said current RIT president Bill Destler. An engineer who knew better than to simply trust his assumption, President Destler bought an electric scooter to tinker with and test for himself. He was continually amazed by its efficiency and low costs of operation which transformed his doubt into a fascination that he wanted to share with others. Thus, the first Dr. Destler’s Challenge at Imagine RIT was born.

Destler’s Challenge has traditionally been a sustainable, primarily electric vehicle, based event that is featured every year prior to the opening ceremony of Imagine RIT. The challenge is open to all teams of RIT students, faculty, staff who build or modify a vehicle that is capable of tackling the current year’s challenge. Winners of the challenge get a choice between a $1000 cash prize or one of Destler’s antique banjos from his private collection.

Last year’s challenge was the E-vehicle Autocross where teams had to build e-vehicles and race around a specified track set up in one of RIT’s parking lots. In 2013, participants had to focus on endurance rather than maneuverability, and were asked to modify and drive a “Power Wheels” children’s toy vehicle.

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Photo from a previous Destler’s Challenge

The 8th annual festival on Saturday, May 2 will bring a major shift in Destler’s Challenge by veering from land-based vehicles to air-based vehicles, namely UAVs. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) come in many different forms, shapes and sizes. To level the playing field and to make the contest accessible to more students, each team has been given the same kit containing a type of UAV called a quadcopter due to its reliance on four rotors.

As Destler correctly points out, “UAVs have this sort of reputation for being weapons carriers…they have a lot of other applications like photography or shipping.” These other applications will be shown through this year’s challenge, which takes place in RIT’s new arena, the Gene Polisseni Center, starting at 8:30 a.m. on May 2. Teams will remotely pilot their crafts along a specified course, stopping to take photographs of “pedestrians” (i.e. life-sized stand ups of RIT administrators). The second part of the challenge will demonstrate preprogrammed autonomous tasks of each team’s choosing. In order to show his support, President Destler and his quadcopter will also be on the course with the other competitors.

An example of the Parrot UAV Kit given to all the teams

President Destler hopes the challenge will increase the “technical literacy” of its viewers and competitors, as well as demonstrate the many capabilities of UAVs beyond their military connotation. He also wants it to be an entertaining experience that will keep people coming back for more next year. As for the future of the challenge? “We’ll continue them for as long as I’m here,” said Destler. “The real challenge will be to come up with interesting new ideas. Will we shift [technologies] again next year? Who knows?”

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