STEM Quadcopter Project

[Photos appear below story]

Twenty-one Year 10 STEM students have learned an intricate by-product skill as they continue the complex process of building their four-bladed drones (quadcopters). This step involved very delicate hand soldering, where 18 separate wires were connected to specific places on a one and-a-half inch square circuitboard. If they were not extremely careful, they would destroy the circuitboard altogether.

“Some of my students are nervous, while others are flying,” says Mr Martin (not literally flying — not yet!).

In STEM, a teacher has to stay in front of the learning curve. "I've had some radio control experience, but this is advanced work and I must admit I'm only one step ahead of the students at times!"

Students had the opportunity to purchase the four-bladed drone kits last term. The College paid for kits that students could not afford.

Assessed on the outcome of the build, they will answer questions like: How much can their drone lift? What is the maximal time it can carry an item once they work out the optimal weight it can carry?

In another by-skill of this project which draws on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the students will program the quad next. This involves specialised software that students use to tell each rotor how to operate. As 100% of the energy from the rotors goes into getting the quadcopter in the air and keeping it up, they must stop the body spinning while making it go in the right direction. Programming ensures that the correct messages are sent to the four rotors, two of which will operate in a clockwise and two in a counter-clockwise direction.

Drones for Good championships held in Dubai last year rewarded innovative teams with prizes of up to $1Million for drone technology that improves people's lives. This includes practical, realisable, lifesaving solutions for search and rescue, or transporting and releasing water and food to trapped survivors — much like the teenage soccer team recently trapped in a flooding Indonesian cave. Drones can be programmed to swim as well as fly and detect barriers such as cave walls.

Mr Martin reports that some of his students are so engaged in this learning that they work on their drones every chance they get, including recesses and lunchtimes. One student has purchased an additional camera, transmitter and goggles, which will give him first-person view (FPV) — as if he is inside the done, travelling at speeds of up to 90 km per hour. 

These Year 10 students are already learning and performing tasks equivalent to the complexity required by the senior syllabus (the new QCE and ATAR), beginning for Year 11s and 12s in 2019.

All going well, students are scheduled to test fly the quadcopters in about two weeks’ time. Stay tuned!

By Debbie Cosier