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Students Learn to Build Drones via 3D Printing

The pervasive assumption surrounding STEM should not be “art versus science” or science in lieu of art, says CEO of Kashmir Robotics, Princess Aliyah Pandolfi: Engineering should be where art meets science to facilitate true innovation. To galvanize creativity in engineering and sciences, Kashmir Robotics has a new challenge for young students: Build a Drone.

The Wildlife Conservation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Challenge (wcUAVc), whose mission is to better prevent poaching of endangered species, has been underway for the past year, boasting revolutionary UAV designs and executions from around the world. Princess Aliyah Pandolfi, who heads the wcUAVc and Kashmir Robotics, noticed a trend among UAV submissions that prompted her to launch a second campaign: The Da Vinci Challenge. The Da Vinci Challenge is a workshop where students learn to build their own drones, as well as understand the fundamental components and electronics of remotely operated aerial vehicles.

“While reviewing designs from the wcUAVc, I realized the most innovative designs were not coming out of the United States,” says Princess Aliyah Pandolfi. Pandolfi began digging into the curriculum from local schools in her Virginia hometown, focusing on private schools with strong science programs. “Science and technology are advanced in some of these schools, but I saw a lack of focus on creativity; there was a heavy focus on the systematic way of learning things – with college, jobs, etc. at the forefront – rather than a focus on innovation,” says Pandolfi. She saw a need for a program that feeds creativity while paralleling the school programs and integrating engineering in a welcoming environment.

“A lot of kids are afraid to even touch science or engineering; they think it’s just for the ‘smart kids’,” says Pandolfi. “These labels hinder kids who really want to try; a lot of artists are signed out of the equation of being scientists or engineers yet that’s what engineering is really all about, being able to solve things out of the box.”

Pandolfi reached out to Solid Concepts Inc., a wcUAVc sponsor, for custom 3D printing in early June to partner once again. The Da Vinci Challenge required condensed drone kits for workshops. Participants in the workshop are required to build a full quadcopter which they learn to fly. Solid Concepts 3D printed avionics casings with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) additive manufacturing for each drone kit in the Da Vinci Challenge. The units were specially colored during post-processing using a proprietary method termed ColorTek™ to provide vibrant color to the drones. “Each part of the 3D printed drone contains the title of the component, and that will stick with them, because these are basic components used to build drones,” explains Pandolfi. “The whole project will help students prepare for other applications later down the road.” Building drones, understanding the basic functions of each unit, and exploring in a creative environment will influence students as they venture further into the world of science and engineering.

As the workshops extend across the country, Pandolfi and Kashmir Robotics hope to provide scholarships to better diversify the attendees of the workshops, particularly focusing on the needs of inner-city students who might not have access to engineering programs within their schools. “We’re currently maxed at 12 drone kits per class; we want to offer financial aid for kids who can’t afford or don’t attend a school with this kind of opportunity,” says Pandolfi. National Geographic has taken an interest in the event as well, filming two workshops and documenting the experience of students.

The Da Vinci Challenge is a force for positive reconsideration of the way science and engineering are viewed in schools today. “Da Vinci himself was an artist and scientist,” says Pandolfi. The challenge is an open door for students who might not have considered engineering before; the challenge hopes to draw new minds into the field.

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