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Drone Construction and Racing for Pre-College Students

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Aerospace Student Projects, Engineering Design and Research

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Michael C. Hatfield University of Alaska Fairbanks

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Michael C. Hatfield is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Associate Director for Science & Education, Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University; an M.S. in electrical engineering from California State University Fresno, and a Ph.D. in Electrical/Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Catherine F. Cahill University of Alaska Fairbanks

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Dr. Catherine Cahill is the Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Cathy possesses a B.S. in Applied Physics from the University of California, Davis, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Washington and the University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. Cathy’s research has focused on atmospheric aerosols and their impacts on visibility, global climate, aircraft safety, and human health. Cathy began working with unmanned aircraft in 2006 as a way to determine the vertical distribution of atmospheric aerosols. In 2015, Cathy became the Director of ACUASI. ACUASI is a world leader in unmanned aircraft operations. ACUASI leads one of the seven FAA UAS Test Sites, heads one of the nine FAA UAS Integration Pilot Program sites, and is a part of the FAA Center of Excellence for UAS Research. During its 18-year history, ACUASI has conducted numerous maritime, subarctic, and arctic unmanned aircraft missions.

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Peter W. Webley University of Alaska Fairbanks

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My research interests include volcanic ash cloud modeling, use of unmanned aircraft systems for geoscience applications, connecting emergency managers with real-time remote sensing data, developing decision support tools, real-time monitoring of volcanic activity, and remote sensing of volcanic processes. My aim is to provide tools and products for hazard assessment and risk mitigation.

I have a passion for business development and technology transfer from an academic environment into the private sector. I am a Faculty Ambassador for UAF's Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization and support and advise UAF's innovators and entrepreneurs along with their Office on providing resources, programs and initiatives to build an innovative culture at UAF.

This led me to become the Vice President of V-ADAPT (Volcanic Ash Detection, Preparedness for Transportation), a start up company out of UAF. We provide real-time decision support tools as well as provide consultancy services to evaluate potential ash impact on day-to-day operations and how to analyze remote sensing data for real-time hazard assessment.

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Drone Construction and Racing for PreCollege Students

Engaging precollege students early in their academic development is an important factor in ensuring their continued interest and focus in education. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities, and in particular, those involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or ‘drones’) can provide exciting and valuable outlets for young students who may be considering a technical career path in engineering or related field.

Advances in technology over the past decade have dramatically decreased drone prices and increased their availability, making these commonplace in today’s society. Drones are used for everything from personal entertainment to covering news and sporting events, conducting vital scientific research, monitoring critical infrastructure, and even providing emergency services. In addition, recent relaxations in the regulatory framework governing the rules for UAS operations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have made it much easier to provide meaningful drone activities to precollege students.

The erosion of these previous barriers has resulted in a much more conducive environment for college and precollege teachers to engage in drone-centric educational activities. As a result, many colleges and precollege schools are beginning to actively partner with various government agencies and corporate sponsors to bring UAS STEM educational experiences to interested students. One example of this is a program instituted at UNIVERSITY this past year, in partnership with the FAA and the local school district.

This program, titled Drone Camp, provided 5th and 6th grade students from the local community an opportunity to learn how to build and pilot small quadcopters, such as those commonly seen in popular Drone Racing League (DRL) events across the country. Held at UNIVERSITY and taught by UAS RESEARCH CENTER personnel, the one-week camp was sponsored by the FAA with the intent of increasing educational opportunities for young students. Elements of instruction included: (1) Basics of flight; (2) Applications of UAS in research and public service; (3) Job opportunities in UAS-related fields; (4) Familiarization with DRL-type small quadcopters; (5) Construction and basic operation of these; and (6) Participation in DRL races on an indoor closed course.

In addition to the above skills, students were exposed to basic concepts of teamwork in sharing tools, common equipment, and instructor resources needed for the construction and racing of their drones. They also worked with each other in small groups to provide feedback on construction and preparation of drones, piloting techniques, and race results. Finally, the students were provided a forum to interact directly with experienced educational program coordinators from the FAA for the duration of the camp.

As a result of its participation in this effort, UNIVERSITY has experienced significant interest in its educational programs by the students and their families. UNIVERSITY has recently kicked off a DRL club for the community and plans to increase the number and scope of racing events, including the eventual incorporation of more complex engineering-centric competitions.

This paper will outline the long term motivation for UNIVERSITY’s involvement in this Drone Camp and related activities, as well as skills learned by the students participating. It will also detail lessons learned from this first event, including student feedback, and provide a look at future outreach activities to be conducted over the next couple years.

Hatfield, M. C., & Cahill, C. F., & Webley, P. W. (2020, June), Drone Construction and Racing for Pre-College Students Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34482

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