Home in on Drones

By Kailan Manandic in News

Clark College has partnered with Insitu, a local Boeing-owned company, to host a program this July to teach high school students how build and operate drones.

Insitu is based in Bingen, Washington and specializes in building unmanned aerial vehicles. For the past four years they have been hosting “RoboFlight Academy,” a summer camp that focuses on mentoring high school students.

This year the Clark College in the Gorge campus will host the RoboFlight Academy from July 13-17.

Principle engineer for Insitu David Laning said their goal is to “bridge the gap from high school to college” and teach students the basics of robotic flight.

“They get to do a lot of fun stuff and meet engineers who work with unmanned aircraft,” said Laning.

The academy is a five-day event resulting in student-operated AR drones, a type of quadcopter, across the Columbia River. “The total length traveled is about one kilometer [a little over half a mile] over a seven to ten minute flight,” Laning said.

During the days before the final flight, students learn about the mechanics, the software involved with robotic flight, the basics of meteorology and conducting experiments with radio. “The camp is still being refined,” Laning said, “but we’re starting to find a groove.”

This year, there will be four teams of students, each with their own AR drone. Each team will be given a different objects ranging from aspirin to a cell phone to carry across the river. According to Laning, they’re simulating an emergency response, providing someone with emergency supplies.

The teams are provided with equipment, mentors and expert help from engineers who work in this field. “Past students often come back as mentors,” Laning said. “They help teach new students the ropes.”

Before the final flight, students will determine weather conditions and calculate adjustments based on wind speeds. They will measure how far and how long the drone travels. They’ll use this and previously gathered data to formulate a presentation.

Teams will discuss and build their presentations the day after the final flight and present them to the camp. The presentations will illustrate the experiments they conducted and what they accomplished over the week.

“Response from students has been amazing,” said Columbia Gorge Educational Program Manager Karin Duncker. This is Clark’s first year working with Insitu. “Our overarching goal is to get students aware of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] and how to get a job in that field,” said Duncker.

Clark is interested in introducing students to flight and technology, according to Duncker. Clark’s main contribution is their facilities in the Gorge; students will use this space to work in.

“I’ve been trying to connect with Insitu for a couple years,” said Computer-Aided Drafting & Design Instructor Stansbury. Because of his background in aerospace engineering, Stansbury said he has been attempting to connect local industry with students, immediately jumping on the chance to help with the camp. “We have a lot of students at Clark who are interested in aerospace,” he said. “There’s been a sort of resurgence in aerospace recently.”

Laning hopes to have Stansbury teach students how to use Computer-Aided Design systems.  “I’m just looking to have some fun,” Stansbury said, “and help new students who are looking to get into engineering in general and possibly aerospace.”

Stansbury hopes to further a connection with Insitu to connect Clark aerospace students with a local aerospace company. “UAVs is a big emerging industry,” he said. “So I’m hoping to get more students engaged in that summer program.”

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