Posted in: SERVO Blog (03/21 at 01:26 PM)

Parallax Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Educational Program

Ken Gracey at Parallax is asking those involved in education to share your thoughts about what you would like to see in a UAS educational program if they were to produce one. They're everywhere right now, most recently last weekend on this 60 Minutes "Drones over America" video. Putting the media-loved "drone" terminology aside for a bit, this program was a reminder for me that Parallax should consider doing what we did for robotics with the Boe-Bot for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) with the ELEV-8. After all, microcontroller education is what we do very well and although rolling robots provide a very strong starting point, there's a next step some educators are asking about: flying robots.

Education requires a known, finite yet expandable system

Consider where Parallax might fit into the UAS educational market (which I really don't think exists yet) with the ELEV-8 products. First, let's recognize that the Chinese and domestic suppliers like DIY Drones have progressed their capabilities beyond the ELEV-8 so our hardware and software features alone aren't all that impressive from an end-user standpoint. However, most people using these are only assembling them and configuring them with a PC. My guess is that fewer people outside of embedded programming circles (and less in educational environment save MIT) have a real understanding of how they are built, how the subsystems operate, and could actually program them on their own like we show people with our robot kits. And it doesn't take a complex UAS to truly learn how they work - the ELEV-8 with the Hoverfly Open board (and an external add-on accelerometer and GPS board) provides more than enough for a UAS educational program that could be used in community colleges and universities. My point is that I don't think we'd be short on features for an educational UAS platform.


Flying robotic educational program

Think about what we've done for the Boe-Bot and ActivityBot, but put it in the air. Imagine a kit and booklet (yeah, a printed spiral bound one also available on-line) which students step through in 60-minute class sessions. They could learn:

  •     The mechanical assembly process, proper soldering techniques, a bit about choice of materials
  •     The principle and theory of operation, along with some of the calculations
  •     Voltage, current, capacity to properly serve the loads of the system
  •     How to configure ESCs from a microcontroller
  •     Program and test the sub-systems (gyro, accelerometer, GPS, lighting control)
  •     Putting these systems together and flying the UAS for the first time
  •     Application of STEM and Common Core standards, so it has a "fit"
  •     Learning to fly responsibly and how to use the UAS for some real-world applications
  •     Open-source, top to bottom hardware and software


To join Ken Gracey's discussion about a UAS Education Program - head on over to the Parallax forum to share your thoughts with Ken!