Mason students build drones as part of Commonwealth Cyber Initiative

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George Mason University Cybersecurity Engineering associate professor Mohamed Gebril led a team of students to the first-ever BattleDrone competition, an exercise coordinated through the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

group outside around a drone
In April, Mason professor Mohamed Gebril (center in green) took a team of students to Commonwealth Cyber Initiative's BattleDrones Competition at Virginia Tech’s Drone Park. Photo by Peter Means/Virginia Tech

In April, Mohamed Gebril, an associate professor in George Mason University’s Cyber Security Engineering Department, took a team of students into “battle.” The team traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia, for a BattleDrones Competition that was hosted by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) at Virginia Tech’s Drone Park.

Gebril emphasized that the inaugural battle was not really a competition but a learning experience. CCI began working on this competition in 2020, but the pandemic halted its progress. This was the first time the event was held.

“It was not a competition per se. All the teams worked together to get this project off the ground,” said Gebril, who teaches in Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing. “CCI-VT ran into some issues with some of the computer vision tools, but overall it was a great learning experience.”

The main objective of the competition, according to Gebril, was to have student teams assemble their own drones with materials provided by CCI-VT research group, as well as promote interest in these kinds of activities among younger students.

For the competition, Gebril pulled together a team of Mason cyber security engineering majors interested in hands-on opportunities, which included senior Kylie Amison, senior Corrado Apostolakis, senior Brandon Henry, junior Casey Cho, sophomore Zaid Osta, and Mahmoud Zaghloul, an area high school student.

By all accounts, it was a successful trip.

The team did really well,” Gebril said. “They were able to assemble the drone successfully. We are also working on continuing this project by adding cybersecurity features to enhance this learning experience.”

Will they compete again?

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “Our students love this project and how it applies concepts learned in classrooms toward this hands-on activity.”

CCI is a network of Virginia industry, higher education, and economic development partners dedicated to cybersecurity research, innovation, and workforce development. Mason leads the Northern Virginia Node of the network.