Raptor Maps’ drone technology snags MIT’s $100,000 prize

Raptor Maps founders Edward Obropta, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics; Nikhil Vadhavkar, PhD candidate, MIT Health Sciences and Technology; and Forrest Meyen, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics. Image courtesy of Raptor Maps.
Raptor Maps founders Edward Obropta, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics; Nikhil Vadhavkar, PhD candidate, MIT Health Sciences and Technology; and Forrest Meyen, PhD candidate, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics. Image courtesy of Raptor Maps.

The pitching has ended and the votes are in. Team Raptor Maps, which proposes to use camera-carrying drones to survey farmland and pinpoint damage before pests and diseases can decimate crops, beat out 193 contestants to win the judges’ favor and a check for $100,000 at the 25th annual MIT 100K Entrepreneurship Competition Wednesday evening.

MIT biochemist Robert Langer and Governor Charlie Baker were speakers at the event, and Baker named May 14 Entrepreneurship Day in honor of the contest’s anniversary.

Three MIT students with backgrounds in the health sciences and aerospace engineering are Raptor Maps’ founders: Edward Obropta and Forrest Meyen are doctoral candidates in the university’s Aeronautics and Astronautics department, and Nikhil Vadhavkar is a doctoral candidate in MIT’s Health Sciences and Technology division.

Their intention is to use technology that analyzes aerial images of agricultural land to more efficiently identify areas attacked by pests.

“The seeds for Raptor Maps were planted in July 2014 during a NASA-funded planetary geology expedition in Idaho,” Vadhavkar said in a statement. Vadhavkar had previously led a team using drones to deliver emergency medical supplies in developing nations through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it was there that “Forrest and I found that the resolution of satellite data was too low. But drone technology provided critical data within the same day.”

The cash award gives this team a jump start. But history indicates that it isn’t just the winning teams who land success when they take their business ideas into the real world.

Some of the biggest companies to come out of the contest barely made the finals, much less were winners.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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