There has been a devastating tornado in a rural area. Roads are blocked and the power company cannot get manpower in to assess the damage.
Across town, there has been a report of a stranger on a high school campus. The school has been placed on lockdown and law enforcement is responding.
The power company sends a drone up to get an aerial view of the damage. Police send another into a school to look around, darting in and out of classrooms.
The use of drones in these hypothetical situations is currently against Federal Aviation Administration regulations without the agency’s special permission, which is extremely rare. However, Congress has ordered the FAA to integrate robotic aircraft into the airspace by September 2015.
And the first drones to be used locally could be ones created by Forest High School students from the prestigious Engineering & Manufacturing Institute of Technology (EMIT) magnet program.
The Public Education Foundation of Marion County learned of an AT&T “STEM at Work” grant and relayed the details to Forest officials. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a curriculum movement by school districts around the country.
Peggy Brookins, director of EMIT, submitted an application for the grant, pitching the drone construction for use by the Sheriff’s Office and Progress Energy, which recently merged with Duke Energy. AT&T awarded EMIT $2,000, which will be issued through the foundation.
Brookins said 43 five-student teams started building the drones in October. The crafts can fly up to 80 mph and hover like a helicopter. The final drones will have state-of-the-art cameras, including night vision, and will be equipped with GPS.
Each team will fly prototypes for Sheriff’s Office and Progress officials, who will pick five that could be tweaked for possible use.
The project, dubbed “12o’Quad High,” was introduced to the students in a challenge letter.
The agencies offered specifications for the drone, or what has been deemed a quad-copter or multi-copter, which must be able to:
- Fly both indoors and out.
- Fly through a 36-inch doorway.
- Hover at altitudes from 4 feet up to 200 feet.
- Maneuver in 20-mph wind gusts.
- Maintain a straight flight path through a narrow flight corridor over extended distances.
- Have a 20-mile range without recharging.
- Be able to follow a suspect from a safe distance for at least 15 minutes of continuous operation.
The device also should be able to inspect electrical and telephone lines after natural disasters, “especially in areas of hazardous or impossible passage for emergency workers.”
Brookins said the total cost of the project is about $9,000, most of which was raised by the EMIT program through donations. Each of the student devices cost about $220 to construct, not including a $350 camera and $500 computer capable of storing live data.
During the test runs, one camera can be unplugged from one student device and plugged into another.
The project is part of what is called a Thematic Learning Activity, or TLA, which not only challenges students to build the device but also requires them to write research papers about the construction. The school has one working prototype already.
AT&T Florida has provided $100,000 for the 2012-13 school year to challenge district education foundations around the state to create STEM workplace experiences this year.
During the past two school years, AT&T issued $220,000 to fund 85 projects, involving 7,380 students.
“By concentrating on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, this program will provide real-life experiences that can help increase the number of Florida’s students graduating high school college- and career-ready,” said Marshall Criser III, AT&T Florida president.
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