Pittsburg State University and the Pitsco Education Corporation have partnered to host Pittsburg’s first ever drone competition. The competition will be held at the Pitsco Idea Shop in Block 22 at the Foundry in downtown Pittsburg. Registration for area middle, high-school, and college students ends March 17. Preliminary, semi-final, and final rounds will be held the end of March through April. Enrollment will be capped at 32 teams of two to three students each. PSU Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato said the competition has the capacity for 20 to 25 teams.
“We really want to impress on people to sign up soon,” he said. “One reason that we’re capping the number of teams, as you can imagine, is so we can control social distancing and exposure. Our area schools have done such an exceptional job of keeping students safe in this last year, and we certainly don’t want to be the ones to screw that up.”
Bill Holden, Pitsco development specialist and staff member at the Idea Shop said the semi-finals and finals will narrow down who will compete in the final competition.
“Once that is completed, they will have until the 29th to complete their drone mission and the field elements and then we’ll begin the competition at that point,” Holden said.
There is a rising trend of the use of drones in education at all levels. Many children may look at a drone and see a cool toy, but from a teacher’s perspective they are an emerging technology that could lead their students toward a potential career.
“We’re proud to partner with Pitt State to provide an opportunity for students to solve challenges with creativity, critical thinking, and engineering skills that they may not otherwise have the resources to try,” said Matt Frankenbery, vice president of education at Pitsco. “We want the students to come in here and learn how to collaborate as a team, work well together, solve problems, but also learn more about drones and the technology.”
Holden said drones can be used as a teaching tool to teach things such as computer programming or drone technology. As students master the skills that flying drones requires, they learn the conceptual physics of how the drones work, their different parts, and how to repair them when they crash in break.
“Essentially, we’ve gotten into drones (because) they’ve become a big thing in education,” Holden said. “More and more, schools are looking toward teaching students about drones and giving them experiences with drones just as a new technology. On the science side you can teach them the four basics of flight—the physics of flight, you (can) talk about the control technology of how the drones are controlled. These drones are controlled via a Wi-Fi network and a handheld controller. There are drones that are controlled by artificial intelligence. They have a computer program in them, and they can go out and do what they need to do automatically.”
Holden gave a tour of the different machines in the Idea Shop which are available for the teams to create with.
“They can make connecters or whatever they can come up with in their heads,” Holden said. ”We’re not really sure (what the kids will do with it) that’s the great thing about it. We are not sure what they will use them for but, kid’s imaginations run wild, and that’s what we want them to do. (We will) foster that creativity within them and provide an outlet for that and the tools to do it with.”
Using drones on loan from Pitsco and $200 in complimentary supplies given to each team, the students will work in the weeks leading up to the competition to create a drone mission and field elements, or obstacles, in a 10-foot by 20-foot netted drone arena. Holden said the kids really respond to using these kinds of technologies to learn.
“Absolutely. I mean it’s a step up from video games really, just watching a computer screen,” Holden said. “This is real life. They are controlling it the same way they would control the video game, but this is a physical thing flying around.”
Holden said the students will form teams and then collaborate on a design for the drone mission.
“They have to create this scenario where they’re flying to the top of a mountain to check out a fire or something that is reported up there. (They) can’t really send anybody up there…physically get him up there in a hurry. So, they send a drone out,” Holden said. “They fly through obstacles to get there, and so then they have this whole scenario (where) the students will design and build what we call field elements for their drone mission. It might be something like a burning building, and the drone is supposed to go up and take a picture through the window of the building to see if there is anybody in there and then return to the home base.”
Holden said it is interesting to see what they come up with. There are a lot of different things within the project for the students to learn.
“They present their drone mission and what they’ve done to create the field elements,” Holden said. “They’ll demonstrate their flying skills in both their drone mission and then the other’s drone missions as well, and they’ll evaluate everybody else’s drone mission and that’s part of the competition.”
St. Mary’s-Colgan principal Wes Streeter said he is excited about the competition. Doing things like this allows the students to be creative and develop critical thinking skills.
“The kids enjoy (it). But what the kids don’t realize they’re doing is they are figuring out drag, they’re calculating the mph, how fast (they are going), what they need to do to make the aerodynamics better and while they’re doing all that they are having fun using their hands,” Streeter said. “…and like I said, even if they’re not going into any engineering and technical field, those skills that they’re learning, whether that be a partnership where they are collaborating with another student, or critical thinking on, ‘hey we messed up here how do we improve it,’ that can be crossed with any industry. So, anything like this anything that is popular technology—kids love technologies. And the funny part is the kids are better at technology than we are.”