Preston Hackett first discovered drones like a lot of people— after a Black Friday sale.
But Hackett, a student in OSU Institute of Technology’s School of Information Technologies, went beyond just flying them. He researched the machines and learned how to build them.
He’s no stranger to mechanics. He completed two years of automotive technician training at Tulsa Tech before joining the U.S. Army in 2006. After he was injured and medically discharged, he had to find a different career path.
“I like working with my hands, but because of my disability, I can’t lean over a car,” he said, so he turned to information technologies. “I’ve been playing with computers since I was 8 years old. I’ve watched technology grow up.”
Hackett learned that one of the IT advisory board members races drones and was an organizer of the Tulsa Drone Racers, a chapter of MultiGP, a drone racing league that has chapters across the globe.
But the racing drones aren’t like the commercially popular versions commonly seen flying around, he said.
“These racing vehicles are very small, about half the size of a keyboard. These are made for racing and extreme high speeds. The current record is 142 mph,” he said. “The primary use is track racing. It’s the Formula One of drones.”
And these drones can’t be found in a store. They are built from scratch by pilots and engineers, and the technology and programming used to build and fly them is constantly evolving, Hackett said.
“Its development happens so quickly, and the community is so tight. We discover enhancements that happen every two weeks. It’s very high tech and very time- consuming,” he said, but that’s part of the fun. “I like to know how things work. It takes a lot of the mystery out of things. If you know how technology works, you can develop it.”
Hackett, who is working toward a Bachelor of Technology in software development and digital forensics, competed in a national collegiate drone racing competition in April hosted by Purdue University.
“That was by far the largest competition I’ve been a part of. It was a pretty big race,” he said, and although he didn’t take home a top prize, it was still a valuable experience.
“I definitely networked. We all maintain contact,” he said because as new issues and challenges come up, fellow pilots can turn to each other for advice. “It’s a method of helping each other out, sharing information.”