• Flights of fancy

    Date:7 February 2018 Author: Lindsey Schutters Tags:,

    Curro’s drone club is causing quite a buzz in education circles. Lindsey Schutters was there for the first lesson.

    As good as DJI’s market dominance has been for normalising the idea of quadcopters, those products aren’t great for teaching kids how to fly. Then, at the end of last year, we caught wind of intended involvement in introducing drone curriculum to schools by UAV Industries subsidiary Drone Racing Africa (DRA). But we didn’t expect to see children as young as eight years old learning to fly in a class environment happen so soon. And of course it’s Curro, one of Popular Mechanics’ chosen “2016 STEM Schools of Note” that have the flexibility in curriculum planning and teacher skills that would be leading the charge.

    “I love gadgets, especially programing robots to move and do things. Now I get to it every day. I really love that. Fortunately, I also have the opportunity to do drones now and learn more about drones,” says Lenore Rix, Robotics and IT educator at the school. She isn’t an experienced pilot by any stretch, but has a palpable hunger to learn everything about drones.

    “I’m new to it, but I am learning. I see a bright future for drones and believe they will become much more popular. I think that if children can learn to fly from a young age, they’ll be in a good position.” She’s right. We reported in August that economists conservatively estimate the value of the local drone economy at around two billion rand. With children learning the pilot and soldering skills early on, there’s no limit to what markets drones will enter in the future. That will also address the current problem in commercial drones: the pilot/professional disconnect. Good drone pilots aren’t necessarily good at doing the specialied job that is needed. But if everyone can fly a drone safely, then it’s just another universal skill like typing.

    “Robotics and programing and drones – those are the types of work that these children will do one day. Its important for them to learn IT and mechatronics now. That’s the future. For me, it all started with programming,” says the IT in education graduate Rix. “And IT then evolved into a more 3D thing.”

    Curro doesn’t have a specific curriculum at the moment, which is why the school is incorporating with DRA. Rix and Curro Brackenfell executive head Henk Weyers are doing the drone competency course as well, so that the school has some expertise in-house. The focus currently is on drone racing, specifically indoor racing, and the plan is for the children to build their own gates.

    “We want to make this accessible to not only our kids. Curro Brackenfell should become a venue for drone racing, so it can be kids or adults and people from outside for team building,” explains Henk Weyers. “We want to grow the sport and know it’s a little expensive. That’s why we’re trying to get more corporates in. Right now we’re concentrating on Brights, Builder’s Warehous and the like so that we can build a facility that’s easy to set up and take down.”

    Drone club currently meets in the school hall, which is also used for other indoor activities like hockey. There’s an indoor cricket net that can extend on each side of the venue. The nets are currently 70 per cent deployed.

    Weyers is visibly excited by even the thought of drone racing, but delivers some interesting commentary on the positive impact of playing with technology. “If they (children) can master it (drone flying) now, they can go on to get the professional licences and earn income on the weekends. A lot of kids aren’t going to be the best in traditional sports, so this is another thing that’s better than sitting inside and playing video games. The problem when children say they are into tech is that they then go home and play games. That’s not all tech is about. Here they can get out and interact with people.”

    The plan is to get as many Curro Brackenfell kids as possible into the drone club extracurricular at a cost of R450 per month. Each child will get a drone kit to build themselves, along with a transmitter and FPV goggles. On completion of the course the children will get to keep the full set. The school will also load a couple of laptops with the simulator so students can practise during free time. It’s unclear when this will roll out to the rest of the Curro network, but the school is in a great postiion to establish an internal racing league.

    Tools of study
    DRA enlisted Goblin Hobbits as the equpment supplier for the drone club; here’s what they’re using.

    FPV Freerider
    Probably the most comprehensive simulator on the market. Works well with most radio transmitters.

    Inductrix Tiny Whoop
    The gold standard in starter drones.

    Eachine Lizard 95
    Elegantly designed micro quad with 5 blade propellers. “Easy” to work on, if you’re really good at soldering.

    Eachine Wizard X220
    Compact freestyle mini quad with 2 300 KV motors, three-blade props and works with 4S or 3S batteries.

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