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Posted on May 22, 2015

Drone club takes learning to new heights

While students were getting jiggy out on the dance floor recently at the Quincy High School senior prom, drones flew overhead, recording the dancers and projecting the fun onto a big screen.
The drones are part of a new, innovative technology club at the high school.
At prom, one of the lessons learned by the club is that when the music is up and the bass is strong, the drones are pulled in toward the speakers. That’s part of the Doppler Effect, where the sound vibrations confuse the drone.
“We had some difficulties,” said Robert Stagg, QHS drone program organizer. “We couldn’t disengage the sonar sensors for detecting height at prom. The sonar also keeps it stable.”
Quincy’s high school, junior high and High Tech High are participating in the Drone Challenge Program, an effort made possible by an $18,000 grant from Microsoft. The new club has attracted some 70 students between the three schools.
At Quincy Junior High, about 45 students have been playing with five small drones during their lunch breaks.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm,” said Trevor Sill, counselor and drone trainer. “We will be ready to build a drone from a kit next week.”
The ultimate goal is to use the drones to get students involved with science, technology, engineering and mathematics on different levels. The students even will learn about how to program flight controllers.
“We are putting an emphasis on the basic parts of making it fly,” Sill said. “They are learning aeronautical principles. We are really trying to get them to understand the insides.”
Students are learning everything from electronics and aerodynamics to radio frequency and the execution of safety and policy guidelines.
Of course, there is a fair amount of crashing of the smaller drones as the students learn. The smaller drones, worth about $20 each, help students learn the basics of drone flight and how to control the drones before they move up to flying bigger and more costly models.
“We need to crawl before we walk,” Sill said. “These drones will not cause injury or damage to property.”
At QHS, the stakes are a little higher. QHS has purchased a variety of drones that add up to a price tag of $1,551. There are plans to buy more as the students get more practice with the drones.
“This is a market where you get what you pay for,” Stagg said. “It’s a good idea not to have all the bells and whistles to start with so they can master the basics. That allows them to learn what a drone can accomplish.”
Several students at QHS, including Maycohol Chavez, were excited for the opportunity to explore the field of robotics and drones.
“I was first involved with VEX Robotics through Mr. Stagg,” said Chavez. “I have been interested in robotics since the end of my freshman year.”
Chavez has competed against 46 teams at the Central Washington University robotics camp, where he placed 10th. The competitions and support from teachers has helped him dive into the world of science and technology with the new drones, he said.
Chavez is the student lead on the Drone Challenge Program, and must set up rules and guidelines before other students are even allowed to touch the drones.
“I am setting up guidelines, instructions and tests for using them,” he said. “If they want to fly the next one which is a harder and more expensive drone, they will have to take a test.”
As students gain their drone legs, they will practice operating the drones within the range and guidelines that are set. Guidelines state that operators must keep the drone within their lines of sight. Once students have mastered safety protocols of the drones will be able to fly them in some parks and other public areas.
From the program, the teens are learning not only educational skills, but teamwork as well, Stagg said.
“I am impressed with how much they like helping each other and sharing what they recently learned,” said Stagg. “They are not shy about asking others for help.”
Microsoft representatives will be at a Drone Challenge on June 6 at QHS to see how far the students have come in only a few weeks.


— By Tammara Green, QVPR contributer

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