Building Drones and Innovating

Updated: Jun 19, 2021









By the end of the two-day workshop, we will have attempted to:

  1. 1. Build a simple quadcopter drone.

  2. 2. Begun to understand how to fly a simple drone.

  3. 3. Design a new lighter drone using materials of our choice to create a new chassis.

  4. 4. Make a colour design for our new drone to make our drones unique.

  5. 5. Test our drones to see if they fly as well as adjust the design.

  6. 6. Race our drones against each other.


I was very excited about the potential of this workshop but in equal balance was very apprehensive about it for a number of reasons.


Firstly, my ambition to introduce complex building to children as young as eight was quite a mental challenge. I so much wanted to be able to inspire children at a Primary school age with current technology and give them a head start on making drones that they may never be introduced to yet suspected that it would be somewhat too much for them. However, I knew that it would be tricky yet inspirational so I decided it was worth the risk.


Therefore, building drones myself would have to be the start point. I purchased various cheap DIY quadcopter drone kits to familiarise myself with the basics. I purchased a series of DIY quadcopter drones:

  • Holyton HT02 Mini Drone for Kids Beginners, Easy Pocket RC Quadcopter with Altitude Hold, 3D Flips, 3 Speed Modes, 3 Batteries, Headless Mode, Protect'

  • Holyton HS330 Hand Operated Mini Drone for Kids Beginners - Remote Control Quadcopter with Altitude Hold, Throw to Go, Circle Fly, 3D Flip, 3 Speed Mo

  • FLAMEER RC DIY Mini Drone Assembly Model Kit 2.4G Remote Control RC Quadcopter Gifts

  • FLAMEER Mini Drone DIY Model Aircraft Assembly Kit UAV Remote Control Quadcopter 2.4G for Beginners Kids Toys

  • Top Race DIY Drone Building Blocks 2.4GHz Remote Control Drone, Build it Yourself and Fly, 54 Pieces (TR-D5)’


Top Race DIY Drone Building Blocks 2.4GHz Remote Control Drone, Build it Yourself and Fly offered a LEGO style drone building kit with a fairly simple control console. Still, it was a little difficult to fly and the building instructions needed to be broken down into far clearer steps, however, the alternative DIY drones were too advanced and tricky to construct for younger children.




DAY 1


Having built and tested the Top Race drone, my thoughts turned to my initial idea: to remake the drone with lighter materials of our own. I chose to take the electronics and motors from the original drone and place them in a balsa wood chassis designed by me, using the dimensions and general shape of the original drone. I wanted to see if I could lighten the drone by using different materials. I bought a rather pricey but good quality digital balances that was able to measure 0.1 to 200 grams. These I would use to measure the weight of the original drone (70g) and compare it to my customised drone. The hope being to make a lighter drone. This we could then use to carry things such as a little flag around the 'Fly Zone'.





Using a jigsaw to cut out the design, and after many failed prototypes, I realised that I would have to differentiate for the younger builders by using my prototype to make some pre-cut chassis for them to use. For the older children (12-year-olds) I would give them a choice of materials and they could make their own. So that the children could see the process of building, I filmed the process of making the chassis and redesigned drone which I showed during the workshop.





Secondly, safety was also a worrying factor. Fast spinning flying rotors whizzing around a hall with young children is not always the safest thing. The risk goes up substantially when considering this is a two-day workshop. To mitigate these risks, I created ‘Fly zones’, asked the children to used safety goggles and latex gloves were also available. Luckily, the drones were not particularly large and had very small propellers which gave you a nasty sting but nothing else. Nevertheless, I had to be particularly wary of children with the desire to rush into everything and launch their drone when not fully prepared or trained. This happened in spectacular fashion as we begun to complete the LEGO drones. One child’s drone took off right to the top of the church hall and came crashing down in a spectacular crash smashing apart into every LEGO piece it had been made of.





The first half hour of the beginning of day one was spent going through all the safety aspects of the various activities and tools that we will be using such as glue guns which can be quite hot. We then began making our Top Race LEGO style quadcopter drones.


As mentioned earlier, some raced ahead and before they new it, the drone leapt into the air and spectacularly crashed. When most were completed we suddenly encountered another problem which I began to realise late in the process of making them. If all were made at the same time and all were being used at the same time then the radio control frequencies may interfere with one another. This did occur with rather alarming consequences. At one point, three leapt into the air and were uncontrollable despite everyone turning off their control consoles.


The new rule became that only one could be flown at a time. This limited practice with the drones which was desperately needed when we would come to make our own drones.


After watching the video below on how to make a customized drone the younger students were handed out the pre-cut drone chassis for making designs on them.





The older students were able to choose from three different light weight materials: Plastic corrugated card, foam card or balsa wood. The students chose plastic corrugated card after weighing them. As they began to weigh the parts they began to realise that they could create a much lighter version of the LEGO quadcopter. By the time the had finished they had managed to get the weight down from 70g to 55g. And yes, we finally got some inspired lightbulb moments from the as the realised that different materials can affect the performance of a drone. They even began to realise that they could lift two 7g pencils with the extra load capacity.




Unfortunately, wiring up the drone motors became tricky as they had turned the electronics upside down, making the drone want to turn upside down every time it was launched. This problem was only discovered later. Nevertheless, they had manage to get the idea that customising something can improve the performance (when wired up properly).


The other problems we encountered was that once the students had started flying the drones, the first crash tended to be their last, destroying a lot of the balsa wood especially at the tips of the arms leading to the motors. The lack of flying practice created many spectacular crashes.


DAY 2


We started the morning with an activity designed to encourage their creativity and develop their engineering skills. After watching a small slide show of various towers and looking at the shapes, namely triangles in all of these towers, the students were asked to create the tallest towers using only art straws and hot glue from the glue guns.







They enjoyed this so much, I gave them extra time to complete their creations. Next, we finished the custom drones and started to try to fly them. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, many of them broke on the first attempt. So much time was spent fixing them we decided to start the racing of drones a little early. We used our towers as waypoints to fly the drones around. It was apparent that some drones were better than others and some also had features that others didn't but a very successful competition ensued.






Conclusion

As stated at the beginning of this blog, this was a workshop that raised much anxiety in me as so many things could not work out as planned and there were some safety aspects to carefully consider. As teachers we usually review a topic and write notes about how things have gone. Some of the main questions we raise are:


  • Did we reach the objectives that were set out at the beginning?

  • How successfully did we meet the objectives?

  • What would you change if you were to do this all over again?

Objective 1. Build a simple quadcopter drone.

Well yes, we all built a simple quadcopter drone from the DIY kits.

2. Begun to understand how to fly a simple drone.

This was tricky as the drones were all on the same radio frequency so therefore the flying time was limited to one at a time. This proved to be a problem later as the mastering of flying this rather tricky TR-D2 drone (No hover mode) made the customized drones get smashed to pieces before we had flown them for any length of time.

3. Design a new lighter drone using materials of our choice to create a new chassis.

4. Make a colour design for our new drone to make our drones unique.

5. Test our drones to see if they fly as well as adjust the design.

We all made colourfully designed drone chassis and stuck them to the motors and electronics. However, because many did not realise that if you put the electronics the wrong way up, you plug in the motors to the wrong plug sockets and when launching, the drone then does an immediate flip.

6. Race our drones against each other.

This was compromised by the fact that we could not race drones that were on the same radio frequency. We therefore had to race the other drones that I had purchased. This was very successful and we had a good competition around the towers that we had made and landing them on the helipads in the Fly Zones.


What would I change if we were to do this again?

Naturally, the first thing to sort out is the radio frequencies. I would have to somehow find out how to change the radio frequencies or scrape the idea of building the TR-D2 quadcopter drone. The other DIY drones were so difficult to build that the Year 4 children would not be able to do this with a healthy degree of independence. Perhaps Year 4 children would be given the TR-D2 Drones and the older children a variety of other DIY drones.


Secondly, making the new drones with my pre-cut balsa wood chassis proved light enough but needed crash protection. The TR-D2 comes with a crash protection but many children found that they did not fit properly around the chassis. More careful modification to the chassis would be needed to make the crash protection plastic surround fit properly.


Lastly, I would not have allowed the children to remove the electronics from its casing. This would have been heavier by 3 grams but would have protected the plug sockets from being damaged (We lost two drones to plug sockets being ripped out).


The enthusiasm for drones and how they fly seemed to be the best thing to come out of the two day event. There were two children who took drones home and there was much discussion about flying and learning about all the interesting things some drones can do. Part of the learning at this age level is to be inspired to take more interest in the fun technical toys that they are given to explore. This I believe was well and truly achieved.







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