On a cold and windy morning March 22, a steady stream of cars arrived at a horse farm on Bliss Lane in Great Falls. From each vehicle, a DaVinci scholar and family emerged carrying a custom aircraft, flight controller and other gear.
The scholars and their supporters were taking part in a Flight Day event sponsored by the Kashmir World Foundation, which emphasizes drone technology as a way of protecting endangered wildlife from poachers.
Princess Aliyah Pandolfi, the foundation’s CEO, greeted the guests, congratulated them on their achievements and urged them to prepare their drones for the event.
About every six weeks, a new group of DaVinci scholars joins the growing ranks of graduates
and interns who are eager to share information and collaborate on new robotic-aircraft challenges.
Days give students an opportunity to test new aircraft, demonstrate new capabilities, or just enjoy watching the festivities over a sandwich or cup of coffee.
At the conclusion of each Flight Day, one student, parent or teacher receives a Technology Achievement Award for advancing the drone technology.
The foundation has held five drone workshops and awarded Drone Operator Certificates to 50 students, who operated a total of 25 drones.
The March 22 Flight Day included a special bake sale hosted by fifth-graders Grace Gundlach and Alice Wax. For their efforts to help save endangered sea turtles, both girls were presented with Kashmir World Foundation Wildlife Ambassador Awards.
Pandolfi founded the DaVinci Challenge to help bring a mission focus to education. The program begins with a brief history of the foundation and the Wildlife Conservation UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) Challenge, which garners the talent of teams from more than 30 countries and six continents.
Pandolfi then challenges the students to build a drone and customize it to perform a mission of their choosing. Students learn to build and fly fully robotic aircraft; identify unique sensors, signal processing and communications equipment required for their mission; and then seek the information, equipment, tools, and expertise required to succeed.
The projects integrate art, science, and engineering with a mission focus, she said. Through partnerships with Microsoft, Foxcroft School, and Great Falls Starbucks, the DaVinci Challenge is bringing the art of innovation and invention into Great Falls.