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Flying high with STEM

This week, Dr Thompson’s Year 9 STEM class had a chance to fly their own custom designed drones, after using 3D printers to develop and perfect their prototypes.

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A drone or a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) typically refers to a pilotless aircraft that operates through a combination of technologies, including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance tech, and others. Drones can also be ground or sea vehicles that operate autonomously.

For their final STEM project, Dr Thompson divided her class up into small groups, giving each one a little mini battle drone. She then tasked them to come up with a new design for their drone’s feet or to design new propeller guards.

The students had to research what was currently out there on the market and come up with new innovations, using 3D printers to make their design prototype. They then had to test out their prototype, trouble-shooting any problems and modifying their design accordingly. The Litmus test was that the drone had to be able to fly successfully and survive a drop of more than a metre.

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With complete freedom to unleash their creativity and imagination, the students all approached the task differently, coming up with all sorts of innovative and well thought out solutions.

Some originally came up with pointy legs but realised that this could be a safety hazard. They then designed thicker, more sturdy legs but found it made their drone too heavy to fly.

Others decided to incorporate ski-like legs, taking their inspiration from rescue helicopters that have to have the ability to land on rough and challenging terrain. They had to contend with balancing issues and ensure they had calculated the weight ratio correctly.

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Other groups thought they had devised the perfect prototype but then found their designs were too thin for the 3D printer.

While the project harnessed their critical thinking and creativity, it also challenged their resilience. It took grit and perseverance to overcome setbacks and they also had to be flexible in their thinking, working together to find solutions.

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On Wednesday, they were excited to finally test drive their drones in the Small Gym. And while there were a few teething problems, every drone managed to take to the air. It was also interesting for the class to hear about why each group had chosen their design, how they had overcome challenges and the learning outcomes they had achieved.

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From photography, to ecology, to humanitarian relief, to surveillance, to emergency response, to agriculture, the emerging global market for businesses and services using drones is huge. And with more industries looking to capitalise on the commercial opportunities presented by the fast-paced drone industry, it’s fantastic to see our Year 9 STEMinists putting their creativity and problem-solving skills to the test!

Next year, Dr Thompson will be launching an extra-curricular STEM class for various age groups. Watch this space!