4 teams to advance to Phase 2 of CITRIS Aviation Prize student design competition

Collage of three realistic illustrations: a futuristic air taxi hovering low over a college campus; a futuristic aircraft parked in a university courtyard with people walking around it; air taxis landing on a roof on a college campus.

CITRIS Aviation, a multicampus research initiative of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) at the University of California (UC), has selected four student teams to advance to the second phase of the 2023–24 CITRIS Aviation Prize competition. 

These top teams will build upon their successful Phase 1 proposals to develop detailed designs for air transportation infrastructure that connects UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz using state-of-the-art aviation technology.

“The CITRIS Aviation Prize will lead to a conceptual design enabling efficient and safe air transportation between our neighboring campuses,” said Ricardo Sanfelice, director of CITRIS Aviation and chair of the UC Santa Cruz Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “CITRIS Aviation is kicking off this exciting journey with four teams of students — one from each of the CITRIS-affiliated campuses — providing innovative ideas for our future air mobility system.

“In light of the research expertise and talent of UC students and faculty, and in collaboration with our partners from industry and the government, I envision the development and deployment of the design over the years to come.”

The first phase of the competition saw submissions from a diverse slate of student groups, with members from a wide range of engineering disciplines, including aerospace engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering and robotics. While each team was required to include at least one undergraduate and no more than two graduate students, the top-ranked proposals featured two fully undergraduate groups.

The following four teams will move on to Phase 2:

  • UC Berkeley: “UC AirLink: Design of eVTOL Transportation Between Campuses”
    • Team members: Jordan Kam, Rain Luo, Leire Roma Rubi, Ting-Hao Wang, Kaiqi Yang, Xi Zheng, Enyang Zou
    • Adviser: Mark Mueller, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • UC Davis: “Connect to UC Davis the SMART Way”
    • Team members: Tiffany Harrend, Harsh Karia, Jordan King, Christian Martell, Lucian Nguyen, Madison Nickels, Abid Vahanvaty
    • Adviser: Camli Badrya, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • UC Merced: “UC Merced Sky Port Proposal”
    • Team members: Edwards Castro, Jason Estevez, Juan Carlos Estrada, Juan Hernandez Maciel, Jayro Ortiz-Ayala, Alan Ramirez, Ivan Flores Vargas
    • Adviser: Francesco Danzi, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
  • UC Santa Cruz: “A Case for Air Taxis in the UC CITRIS Campuses”
    • Team members: Alexander Aghili, Albert Lee, Bernardo Narvaez 
    • Adviser: Tyler Sorensen, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering

Throughout the winter and spring, the teams will participate in monthly project review meetings, reporting their progress to a committee of aviation experts. These meetings will offer the students insight into the typical project cycles of engineers working on similar real-world designs. 

The finalists will present their refined designs to a panel of expert judges, including representatives from CITRIS Aviation, the NASA Ames aeronautics directorate and industry sponsors, at an awards ceremony in May. Their final products will be assessed on their utility and efficiency, feasibility of implementation, environmental sustainability, and overall innovation. 

Exceptional proposals will be eligible for various honors, including awards sponsored by Joby Aviation and Supernal — both of which are accompanied by $3,000 cash prizes.

“The creation of an airlink network between the CITRIS campuses and NASA Ames came as part of the mission of the recently established Berkeley Space Center,” said Alexandre Bayen, director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, associate provost for the Berkeley Space Center, and Liao-Cho Innovation Endowed Chair and professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. 

“I am extremely excited that CITRIS Aviation is carrying out this concept for our four Northern California campuses through the CITRIS Aviation Prize, advancing discovery and design of the future of aviation through various steps of autonomy.”

The 2023–24 CITRIS Aviation Prize is the second iteration of the competition, which launched in 2021 with a challenge to plan a long-distance, fully autonomous flight with a small uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV). The winning team, a group of undergraduate and graduate students at UC Merced, conducted a successful demonstration flight in October 2022.

For more information about the CITRIS Aviation Prize and to stay updated on the progress of teams, please visit the CITRIS Aviation Prize webpage.