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UCI Professor Peter Burke Breaks Guinness World Record, Inspires Students 

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UCI professor of electrical engineering and computer science Peter Burke broke the Guinness World Record for “the farthest distance to control a commercially available unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)” using cloud computing and the internet. Burke and his team remotely flew the drone 18,411 kilometers, or 11,440 miles, nearly halfway around the world. He completed the project with assistance from some of his students and colleague Patrick Jeanty, who piloted the drone from the French island of Réunion located in the Indian Ocean.

“I was able to do a prototype on my own in the garage, but then to do something more [with the drone] … I had some students do it as a senior design project and it was a perfect project for them,” Burke said. “The hardest part was finding somebody on the other side of the world willing to participate [in piloting the drone].”

He broke the record on Dec. 17, 2021 and officially received his world record status a year later on Dec. 9, 2022. It was never Burke’s intention to obtain the Guinness World Record, and he only found out that they qualified after he and his team had already flown the drone.

“After [completing the project], I saw in the Guinness record that this was one of the records that was unclaimed, so I realized that we could apply this senior design project to this record and made it happen,” Burke said.

Burke has worked at UCI since 2001 and wants his students to “be curious and work hard.” His interest in aviation was kindled by his father’s service in the Air Force. 

Describing himself as a curious individual, Burke naturally settled on a career in academia. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Chicago and went on to earn his master’s degree in physics from Yale University. Burke was also the recipient of the Sherman Fairchild Prize Postdoctoral Fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. 

Although Burke has had a successful academic career, he said that school didn’t always come easy to him. 

“Sometimes I had to take a class more than once to really understand [the concepts] and so I’m not one of those people that just immediately understands everything; it takes me time and effort,” Burke said. “I still do [take time and effort]. It just still takes hard work to learn new things and to keep up with new developments.”

Burke encouraged students who may have to retake classes to “keep up the positive attitude.” He also stressed the importance of taking humanities classes for all students, especially those in STEM. 

“A lot of students in STEM go right into STEM and they don’t learn how to write correctly and, initially, they get ahead in their career, but eventually … if they can’t communicate with other people, that’s really going to impact their own career,” Burke said. “It’s very important to learn how to read and express your thoughts. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in.”

Burke is working on a wide range of projects with both his undergraduate and graduate students. 

“We are working on projects related to trying to create ways for avoiding collisions between drones and each other, and drones and unmanned aircrafts … and then we’re also working a lot on electrical properties of human cells and how they process energy and metabolism at the microscopic level,” Burke said. “[They’re] good projects for undergraduate and graduate students to sink their teeth into … If it was easy, I would have solved it myself.”


Laiyla Santillan is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at laiylas@uci.edu.