Quad Copter Camp Teaches Engineering and Business Skills

More than two dozen high school students learned how to fly right as technology entrepreneurs during a four-week summer camp at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Students from the Dallas area and beyond spent a month assembling and learning to operate small, unmanned aerial vehicles called quad copters, which are remote-controlled flying robots.

“The campers not only built the vehicles from a kit and learned how to fly them, they also had to come up with a business plan for their use,” said Dr. Kenneth Berry, assistant director of theScience and Engineering Education Center (SEEC) at UT Dallas and director of the University’s first Quad Copter Camp.

The high school students were divided into five teams. With guidance from UT Dallas faculty and students in the Naveen Jindal School of Management and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, each team came up with a company name and determined a problem that its robot would address. They then conducted market and feasibility analyses and developed a business plan.

“It’s important to get our young folks excited about business and engineering at an early age. Innovation is key to job creation and is the future of our economy, ” said Dr. Joseph Picken, director of innovation and entrepreneurship programs in the Jindal School. He designed the innovation and entrepreneurship portion of the camp curriculum and served as one of the judges.

Quad Copter Camp, UT Dallas

Osekhahu Eigbobo (left) and Shyam Madhani prepare to test fly a small unmanned aerial vehicle with the help of instructor Cyrille Chiari during UT Dallas’ first Quad Copter Summer Camp.

The Texas Workforce Commission provided a grant to help support the camp. Experts in unmanned aerial vehicles from area companiesOnPoynt Unmanned Systems and Kasling Aircraft Company were consultants and helped campers learn to fly the quad copters.

Quad copters can vary in size, but all are lifted and propelled by four symmetrically placed rotors, which are similar to helicopter blades.

“There are so many ideas for using this type of small aerial vehicle,” Berry said. “For example, they might be used to deliver emergency pharmaceuticals to people in a disaster area, to count cows on a large ranch, or assist in search and rescue operations. This is a new industry that is really poised to take off.”

From their analyses, teams developed robot designs, including attaching sensors, cameras and infrared cameras to their vehicles. Campers also programmed the robots, and designed and manufactured custom parts using computer-aided design software and a 3D printer.

Teams flew their vehicles through a series of challenges, such as following a ball on a soccer field, maneuvering the copter close to a (mock) hazardous-waste container, and searching for a hidden person using an infrared camera on the vehicle.

Enrique Vargas, a student at Plano West High School, said the program was more than “just a summer camp.”

Enrique Vargas

Enrique Vargas, a student at Plano West Senior High School, was CEO of the Fire Eyes team. He led a presentation of his team’s business plan before an audience of parents, peers and a panel of judges.

“We learned so much,” Vargas said. His group’s proposed product was designed to aid firefighters by flying over and scanning burning buildings, providing information about dangerous spots and wind conditions.

“I came here because I wanted to fly quad copters, and ended up starting a business,” Vargas said. “It’s really amazing and something that I can take with me. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of ideas.”

UT Dallas alumnus Rebecca Poynter, BGS ’86, is an OnPoynt co-owner and education specialist. She said the skills offered by the Quad Copter Camp are in tune with those important to her company’s business, which sells and provides training in small unmanned aerial systems.

“This camp is a very significant program in aerial robotics,” she said. “The kids are great. They’re using 3D printing, which is very cool, and they’re learning the importance of teamwork.”

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