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Title: An Introductory Aeronautics Course for Pre-Engineering Students to Understand How Drones (Flying Robots) Work
Robotics has emerged as one of the most popular subjects in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for students in elementary, middle, and high schools, providing them with an opportunity to gain knowledge of engineering and technology. In recent years, flying robots (or drones) have also gained popularity as teaching tool to impart the fundamentals of computer programming to high school students. However, despite completing the programming course, students may still lack an understanding of the working principle of drones. This paper proposes an approach to teach students the basic principles of drone aeronautics through laboratory programming. This course was designed by professors from Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology for high school students who work on after-school and weekend programs during the school year or summer. In early 2021, the college applied for and was approved to offer a certificate program in UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) Designs, Applications, and Operations to college students by the Education Department of New York State. Later that year, the college also received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to provide tuition-free early higher education for high school students, allowing them to complete the majority of the credits in the UAS certificate program while still enrolled in high school. The program aims to equip students with the hands-on skills necessary for successful careers as versatile engineers and technicians. Most of the courses in the certificate program are introductory or application-oriented, such as Introduction to Drones, Drone Law, Part 107 License, or Fundamentals of Land Surveying and Photogrammetry. However, one of the courses, Introduction to Drone Aeronautics, is more focused on the theory of drone flight and control. Organizing the lectures and laboratory of the course for high school students who are interested in pursuing the certificate can be a challenge. To create the Introduction to Drone Aeronautics course, a variety of school courses and online resources were examined. After careful consideration, the Robolink Co-drone [1] was chosen as the experimental platform for students to study drone flight, and control and stabilize a drone. However, developing a set of comprehensible lectures proved to be a difficult task. Based on the requirements of the certificate program, the lectures were designed to cover the following topics: (a) an overview of fundamentals of drone flight principles, including the forces acting on a drone such as lift, weight, drag, and thrust, as well as the selection of on-board components and trade-offs for proper payload and force balance; (b) an introduction to the proportional-integral-directive (PID) controller and its role in stabilizing a drone and reducing steady-state errors; (c) an explanation of the forces acting on a drone in different coordinates, along with coordinate transformations; and (d) an opportunity for students to examine the dynamic model of a 3D quadcopter with control parameters, but do not require them to derive the 3D drone dynamic equations. In the future, the course can be improved to cater to the diverse learning needs of the students. More interactive and accessible tools can be developed to help different types of students understand drone aeronautics. For instance, some students may prefer to apply mathematical skills to derive results, while others may find it easier to comprehend the stable flight of a drone by visualizing the continuous changes in forces and balances resulting from the control of DC motor speeds. Despite the differences in students’ mathematical abilities, the course has helped high school students appreciate that mathematics is a powerful tool for solving complex problems in the real world, rather than just a subject of abstract numbers.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2202107
NSF-PAR ID:
10415323
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The 130th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, June 25-28, 2023, Baltimore, MD
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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