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Posted by on Jun 13, 2016

Drone Education: Hardware vs Software?

Drone Education: Hardware vs Software?

One of the projects to which I contribute is a drone app / curriculum built on the DJI platform known as DroneBlocks. It is still a small company at the seed level, and we’re constantly networking within the the STEM & robotics educational communities.
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This morning I attended a Tech Titans forum focused on safely and successfully incorporating drone technology in the classroom. A few educators from Lewisville ISD and a local DFW operator led the forum. With rapid improvements in UAV hardware rolling out globally and constantly, I found it odd to hear an overwhelming majority of the dialogue focused on DIY hardware of various forms. Off the shelf, ready to fly hardware is now widely available and affordable….a functioning quadcopter is effectively a given in today’s hardware environment.

Kid programmingStudents need to learn the safety and physical aspects of drone usage. However, now that we all have access to affordable aircraft AND those aircraft are infinitely programmable, it is time to give UAV software edu a seat at the STEM table. We need to keep in mind that a primary goal of STEM education is to prepare students for all of the new STEM related career opportunities. In general, there are more job opportunities in software than in hardware. So if we’re truly prepping children for the jobs of tomorrow, we now have a responsibility to enable STEM students to explore the software side of drones.

Interestingly, one of the leaders of the forum dismissed the DJI platform as a viable solution for STEM education ‘because you just take the Phantom up and it flies. In other words, ‘it just works.’

Wait…what?
Let me get that straight, the suggestion is that we should NOT employ widely available, affordable and programmable tools for STEM education? If a student is interested in the physical side of aviation then sure DIY builds are a great tool. Or if you’re in the business of selling or supporting DIY builds then I understand your bias. But in the case of a computer science minded student or an after school drone program without access to a UAV program facilitator to keep finicky DIYs flying, a Phantom 3 or 4 is the best option.

Disclaimer: I don’t sell drones and I don’t like to toot DJI’s horn (DJI has been very unsupportive of our team as independent developers), but the truth is their hardware platform ‘just works’. It is the cheapest and it is the most programmable.