Naperville North Students Win Conrad Challenge

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Four students from Naperville North High School took home the top award at The Conrad Challenge, a multi-phase STEM & entrepreneurship competition for students aged 13-18. The Huskie quartet was named Pete Conrad Scholars in the category of Aerospace & Aviation at the Challenge’s Virtual Innovation Summit earlier this month.

Arjun Shah: “Essentially teams of students pitch their ideas to people who have expertise in the field in which they are pitching.

Forming Team EcoAero

Arjun Shah, Aadi Dhingra, Jimit Gosar, and Nithilan Kalidoss, also called Team EcoAero, went through 3 rounds – an initial pitch, business plan, and an innovation summit, competing against high school teams from around the world. They took home the top award for their product invention, AirLyft.

AirLyft is a versatile drone that uses retractable wings to fly faster and longer while serving a variety of commercial purposes. Before forming Team EcoAero, the group of four met while sharing a common interest in drone piloting.

Jimit Gosar: “We met when we were all part of a club called Flying Huskies. It’s a drone club at our school. We were used to flying small drones and working with them. We were getting really bad battery life. We wondered why hasn’t something innovative come out from the commercial drone industry.”

Dividing up the Workload

Each team member took on a different role in the creation of AirLyft and EcoAero, which included market research, prototyping, and go-to market plans.

Nithilan Kalidoss: “W separated into our own areas. For example, Aadi (Aditya Dhingra) had financials and I had software. In my case I made a website for our company and did some social media stuff as my role as a CIO (Chief Investment Officer).”

Aditya Dhingra: “It was nice because we all had these diverse interests, so for example, I was the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) so I worked more in terms of cross accounting and creating projection models and looking at the finances of the corporation.”

The EcoAero team even took it a step further by building a prototype of the drone to demonstrate its retractable wings that help to ensure high flight times and better performance. By creating the possibility for longer flight times, Airlyft drone use would now open up to include things like package delivery, firefighting, seed-based agriculture, surveillance, sanitation, and electrical land inspection.

Working Together While Staying Apart

The project took months to come together and once the COVID-19 shutdown occurred in March, Team EcoAero was unable to meet and work on AirLyft as a group.

Shah: ” All the parts were at my house so I had to do pretty much all the prototyping besides the 3D printing which Jimit did. The electronics were definitely a big struggle for me. I was having zoom meetings with the rest of the team for 2-3 hours while we tried to figure out some small segment of electronics.”

The Innovation Summit for the Conrad Challenge changed to a virtual experience in which the team members were able to interact with other competitors and receive feedback from experts in the field of Aviation and Aerospace.

Gosar: “We got so much feedback as well as industry experts who were saying we had a cool product and they hoped we could do great things with it.”

The Future of AirLyft

After winning the Conrad Challenge for their division, Team EcoAero is looking to take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey for AirLyft.

Dhingra: “Yeah we’ve also been doing a lot of market research lately, trying to figure out exactly what there is in the market that there is a need for so we can target our product for that specific need and maximize our revenues in the future.”

No matter how many obstacles stood in their way, the challenge of making their idea a reality pushed these four Naperville North students to new heights.

Shah: “We really all had fun working on this project, learning new things and going into different places that we never would have learned without pursuing a competition like this. That was definitely one of the reasons why we had so much success is that we were all very motivated to work together, to learn new things, and to ultimately build a product off an idea.”

For Naperville News 17, I’m Justin Cornwell.

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