Bronxville High School students in Ben Cornish’s Introduction to Robotics class have been building a customized drone and programming it for autonomous flight around the neighborhood.
“What makes the project complex is that the drone is not built from a standard kit but rather a selection of specific independent components, some of it standardized, some of it not,” Cornish said. “Software is all open source and there are several different channels of communication with the drone. The hardware is rather advanced – making use of standard GPS via satellite and real time kinematic positioning to improve exact location.”
To complete the project, the students were divided into several teams based on their interests and abilities, including machine learning, hardware, software, circuitry and administrative duties. One group has been building the physical components of the drone, using CAD software coupled with rapid prototyping fabrication to build protective housing for various components. Another group has been connecting the drone’s motors, electric speed controllers, batteries and flight controller. Other students have been training a learning algorithm to detect cars, trees and houses and deploying that to an iPad set to take time-lapse photography from onboard the drone. Another group of students has been tasked with connecting the drone to a computer and ensuring it flies in the correct direction.
“The project is not all entirely tech,” Cornish said. “In this case, due to its nature, we all need to be aware of, at various levels, the appropriate public policies and flight and licensing requirements.”
Another essential group that several of the students were assigned to is dealing with the communication between class members and various other parties, such as school administration, security and local police, as well as becoming experts on state and county drone policy and being responsible for the various documentation, including building a test schedule and recording the appropriate data and outcomes.
“There’s a lot of teamwork that goes into it, and we have to be communicating with each other constantly to make sure the drone is moving along with its process,” said junior Willem Bender, who proposed the idea for the project and took the initiative to find the parts for the drone, draft a proposal and make a list of what each team would be working on. “I wanted to make sure that everyone regardless of skill, talent or field of interest would have a role in the project.”
Throughout the assignment, the students have been learning about physics and electronics and working on their collaboration and problem-solving skills while paying close attention to detail.
“There is a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving to be done,” Cornish said. “Things work one moment and then not the next. The project is topical, accessible, timely, relevant, interesting, new, cool, applicable and authentic.”
Over the next several lessons, the students will put the propellers on, ensure that all motors and communication systems are running and conduct test flights before flying their drone in the local airspace for a short duration of time.