Drone expert, Dr Catherine Ball, discusses how Australia is leading the pack in the non-military use of drones, known as ‘drones for good’, and sheds light on their enormous potential for the modern classroom.
Back in 2013 the project team I was leading spent a week flying long-range reconnaissance drones off the coast of Western Australia for 10 hours, covering hundreds of kilometres per day. We used Australian technology previously used to look for insurgents in Afghanistan to look for turtles and their tracks and nests on offshore sandy islands. The innovation was not in the drone itself, but in the application of that platform to carry cameras where we needed them to be. The imagery that was returned to me over those days left me crying with joy. We were able to take photos of Mother Nature in action without her knowing we had even been there. An environmental scientist’s dream is to be able to sample the environment without causing sampling bias or affecting the wildlife you’re monitoring.
This project has been frequently used as a corporate example of how to apply the Australian Digital Technologies Curriculum. Technology is not here for technology’s sake, rather the reason why we apply technology is where the magic is found.
There have been many other projects involving #DronesForGood that you may have seen or heard of in the media. From delivering vaccines in Vanuatu, to burritos in Canberra; from post-cyclone assessments in north Queensland to monitoring the corals of the Great Barrier Reef. Drone technology is coming into its own and is also coming into the classroom.
Do drones have a place in schools? I think the answer is a definite yes. They are the most egalitarian technology I have ever seen, evolving fast, working hard, and creating jobs and economic growth in Australia and globally.
But where can schools even start when there are so many rules and regulations around drone use? The good news is that education is more effective than regulation and legislation when it comes to drones, and over the past few years there have been many ways in which drones have already been used in schools. There is a lot of existing work to aid principals and teachers when making decisions about drones.
Firstly, the curriculum: there are so many areas where drones can be added to existing curriculum. We don’t need a new drone curriculum, but rather they can be used in makerspaces and be designed and 3D printed. They can be used in STEM subjects from working out the engineering of flight, to the maths around the speed at which rotors are spinning, technology from the materials used, and science as far as how we are applying them (e.g. turtle track monitoring). In geography they can be used for mapping either over a set up in the classroom or in the school field or on a local field trip. Drones can be discussed in ethics and legal debates, the languages used to code them can create dance sequences and racing events. Drones can be used for team building, getting kids involved who may not have access to technology at home, and engaging kids who may be difficult to reach
The Digital Technologies Curriculum has many ways in which drones can be applied and is a great place to start.
What about risk and legal issues?
My first advice is always to contact CASA (the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority) to confirm your plans. Drones are categorised by weight, and so the small sub-100g drones (e.g. Parrot Mambo or DJI Tello) are exempted from many restrictions placed on larger aircraft and are the easiest to introduce into the classroom. There is a Remote Pilot’s Licence (the RePL) that you need to be at least 16-years-old for and can cost $1000+ which I would recommend teachers look at, but the Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot – Visual Line of Sight) is a good place to start for the students if they are wanting to work towards an actual qualification in the subject.
The way of the future
But what does this all mean for the future employment and skills required in Australia? There have been many predictions made by the World Economic Forum noted in their future of work reports which always show software and digital skills, as well as the ability to understand and use technology to the best of its ability and purpose, plus innovating the applications of technology to solve problems.
The cross-pollination of STEM and the Arts leads well towards this type of technology, always remembering that drones can swim, walk, dive, run, fly and crawl. Drones will be cars, buses, aeroplanes and the way we get humans to Mars.
The ‘drone’ economy has been predicted to be a significant slice of the global economy in the next ten years, and the venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs continue to put their money into these drone technologies, as well as major multinationals such as Airbus, Toyota and Google. These opportunities are where Australians can happily say we are leading the rest of the world, having been one of the first countries to regulate for commercial drone use back in 2002. We should ensure our students make the most of this head-start.
As a scientist with a passion for real-world solutions and opportunities I have curated and created a number of resources which are all free to teachers and educators, including guides to getting drones into schools, interviews, panels, and safety and risk assessments.
Educators can sign up and access these resources, and share any resources they may have developed, by clicking here.
One of my start-ups is the annual World of Drones Congress, with a special 50 per cent discounted rate on offer for educators. The next event will take place on 26-27 September 2019 at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.