Teaching Kids to Fly Micro Quadracopters, (and Perhaps a Life Lesson) at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire in Vermont on Lake Champlain.

documentation, General, How-Tos, Make & Fablab, Product Reviews, Video

As an experiment I gave micro quadcopter flight lessons to kids this weekend at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire. I learned a lot. My back is sore from picking up crashed drones ever 10 seconds for two days because it was a very popular booth! The lesson I learned (perhaps a life lesson) was, “When in trouble, turn off the motor; and fall gently to the grass, then get back up and try again.” In other words, resilience, persistence, and the practiced discipline to avoid uncontrolled crashes that prevent trying again, in favor of controlled crashes your craft can survive unscathed. 

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-4-49-58-pm

Photo Slideshow
Link to Slideshow

On breaks, I managed to get some video to test the craft’s camera. With a lot of crashes, I ended up with shots of a rocket launch, lake views, inside flights, and in-tent flights of the Northern New England Drone User Group next to my table.  

The micro quad I used for this test is about the size of my hand. It’s safe since its blades spin in place if they hit skin, leaving only a sting. And it had prop guards and I stood right next to the kids with my hand near the throttle. They cost about $70 (including an HD camera now, which amazes me). Here’s a great unboxing and review of the model I usedUnboxing the Hubsan X4 H107C v2 HD. Considering it’s cost and size, and that is it designed for mostly indoor use, I think the video is remarkable. But the site is remarkable too!

The experiment worked. Kids lined up both days. It was very exhausting, since I was the only one manning the table both days (note to self). I’m still sore from running around finding the crashed copters in the grass every few minutes. It took me a day and half to realize the kids loved finding the crashed copters…duh…

The kernel I found to the teaching was helping these young new pilots turn off the motors and have a controlled crash before they had an uncontrolled crash. Controlled crashes are when you stop all the motors and the craft tumbles out of the air. This little copter doesn’t usually get hurt if it lands from any height on grass. It’s spars have break away parts that clip back together and it’s very light. It does get hurt in high speed crashes with the motors grinding the props into the ground. 

It takes a lot of practice to fight the human instinct to power up when the craft starts to get in trouble. I saw almost 100% of kids and adults power up whenever the craft got out of control or near obstacles! And everyone, even ace pilots, get in trouble. Human nature though is to save the craft and keep it flying. But, powering up almost always leads to higher speed crashes, often with the motor on causing the props to try to spin the grass, on fingers, rocks, dirt, etc. Even worse, after a crash, our instinct is to rush over to the downed craft. Rushing over to a downed craft often makes one’s hand slip on the controller causing the motors keep on struggling. This then was our challenge, to practice fighting on initial instincts. 

We only broke one craft in two days of flying, and that was because it hit a metal bar on the tent roof at just the wrong angle at full speed and I wasn’t quick enough to stop the power that one time.

Most people quickly break small RC copters and miss out on the joy of flying. I hope now there are a few more folks you there who can control their crashes, try again, and slowly near to fly in interesting places and ever higher.

My advice on moving to Vermont. The short answer from a liberal-ish democratic perspective.

General, How-Tos, Travel Reports

My Short Answer After Moving To The Town of Brattleboro in Southern VT in 2008.

Generally – A great state! I find myself amidst the voluntarily lower middle class. My friends and colleagues are mostly relatively happy hippie-ish democratic liberals who are into protecting the environment, education, local community support, and healthy living. There are also lots of retired folks, republicans, a few rich, a more poor. There’s the few homeless (more in summer) and those suffering visibly from psychological issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

The tone I experience here is somewhere between New Hampshire’s “Live Free, Or Die” independent, self-sufficiency, and the West Coast’s hippie-dippie liberalism and innovation.

Under that, I sense a deep commitment to community, family and education that crosses political lines. Most Vermonters I know seem to be able to agree on being there for one’s neighbors, supporting good public schools, farming, effective social programs, healthy local food, being outdoors, and spending time with family and friends.

Finally, it’s a very small state, less then 700,000! So scale back the numbers in all your factoring.

My Advice

  • Have quick plans for food you can make for pot-luck dinner socials. So many pot lucks! And you’ll waste money if you always buy prepared food or bring booze. Sometimes I wish someone would just host a dinner, just once…
  • Even one job with low salary, but full benefits, is very valuable here. Then the other person can freelance, farm, finagle, etc.
  • Lock you car during zucchini season if you have out of state plates. If you don’t it will be full of folk’s surplus zucchinis that they are trying to get rid of.
  • Join the COOP
  • Find a CSA for local veggies and/or meat
  • Get a big freezer for blueberries and homemade pesto all year!
  • Join a board *but not too many.
  • Vote and go to town meetings and public hearings.
  • Trim your expenses and dept.
  • Get some tools
  • Plant a garden
  • Get really good snow tires in the winter (Michelin X-Ice for example).
  • Draft proof and insulate your house (consider a heat pump with Efficiency Vermont help).
  • Find the swimming holes.
  • Okay, on the snow tires…With an AWD cars, some say you don’t need ’em, but I got kids now and they make a huge difference. If you don’t have AWD, get ’em for sure.
  • Get wool socks, sweaters, hats, and wear layers. But wait for a sale if you can, at the end of winter.
  • Keep a blanket, water, and a flashlight in your car in winter.
  • Keep a swim suit, towel, blanket, sun screen and water in the car in summer.
  • Leave time to drive on the little back roads when you can, there’s so many cool little discoveries.

My Makerspace wishlist for K-12 Schools and College Makerspaces (aka fablabs, STEM labs, STEAM labs, hackerspaces, etc)

General, How-Tos

Folks have been asking me what I think it takes to make a Makerspace.

The short answer is people. The right person can make a space successful for very little money. Conversely, a lot of money can go to waste on equipment if the wrong person is running the show. I think the person needs to be have “EdTech” type humanizing technology skills and  the ability to use social media and media production to constantly market, document and publicize activities in the space. More support for the people aspect of Makerspaces is here: MIT FabLab Foundation, scroll down.

In terms of equipment, here’s my rough thoughts below, as of the publish date only. Check with me if it’s after that, things are moving fast in Makerland!

No Budget (It’s the people stupid!)

  • A champion who’s job it is to champion the space, as a volunteer, or as part of their existing job.
  • Check out the book Invent to Learn from the library.
  • From the recycling bins: Cardboard, cups, bottles, etc. (Wash them!)
  • Donated stuff: old toys, glue guns, duct tape, office supplies, old electronics, bike parts, scrap wood, kitchen supplies, (often from soliciting parents, community, and business donors – you’d be shocked at how much stuff arrives if folks know kids will be using it at school!)
  • Space: With windows that open. An empty closet, garage, tent, shed, or make it mobile with donated bins
  • Furniture: Folding tables and old chairs or stools. They will take a beating!

$5000 to $10,000

(Prices assume 10-20% education discounts on sites, just ask and use your teacher work email).

  • At least a paid part time champion (existing teacher, new hired, staffer, etc)
  • All the above plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • A sustained yearly supplies budget of about $3000.00 to $5000.00
  • At least one dedicated fast Mac or PC  and projector ($2500 or in a classroom already)
  • Student access to modern Web browser tools.
  • 3D Printer and supplies. 1 Afinia H480 ($1500), or 2 PrintrBot Metal Simples ($1500)
  • Vinyl Cutter and supplies. US Cutter ($500)
  • 8th? grade and up. All with good curriculum and support. My favorite for STEAM skills. Adruino.cc starter kits ($100ea). For more STEM skills, Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit ($80). For more choices on configurations, Adafruit kits.
  • <6th? grade MakeMakey kits ($39ea) or Littlebits (expensive).
  • Sparkfun ProtoSnap E-Textiles Starter Kit ($24 each)
  • Sewing Machine (~$150)
  • Multimeter (~$30)
  • A few key tools (~$200)
  • Extra electronics (~$200)
  • New glue guns, tape, wire, string, tinfoil, office supplies, etc (~$300)
  • Existing or inexpensive folding tables and chairs, or stools and benches, a fan, lights. (~$600)

$10,000 to $50,000

  • Fulltime champion
  • All of the above, plus more kits, tools and supplies.
  • Out of my depth here, but I’m guessing a roughly 20% of initial budget for yearly supplies and IT (Spend $50K, need 10K year).
  • All of the above
  • Laser Cutter. Full Spectrum Laser cutter ($4000). Or Epilog Zing 30w Laser ($9000)
  • CNC rig? Or more electronics? Or more wearables?
  • Great furniture and lighting, natural hopefully, ($Lots)

$$$ Dreamy

MIT Fablab budget list

Basic Skills

  • Tinkering
  • Failing
  • Surfing the Web
  • Google searching
  • Shop safety
  • Documenting skills and habits. Finding files  and organizing them, and doing a little every day (videos, photos,  screenshots, writing summaries and notes with resources used and links. Exploring problems, surprises, solutions)

Some Software Thoughts (Thanks Jaymes Dec)

A computer that has, or can install and use:

 

ITP Camp 2014 report on National Maker Day

documentation, How-Tos, lessons learned, Travel Reports

National Maker Day

I started this post on National Maker Day, so here’s some info on that. The White House just released this: FACT SHEET: President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire: A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future. It’sFull of leads on grants and resources for Making in higher ed, and K12 here. And the White house had the first Maker Faire Day today: http://www.whitehouse.gov/maker-faire

ITP Camp 2014

I’m in NYC for three of the four weeks of ITP Camp 2014 telecommuting for Marlboro during the day as I refresh the skills I learned while at ITP in 2006-2008.  The camp is part of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts. Camp is for folks who want to come workshops after work, and on weekends, in making, physical computing, digital fabrication, e-textiles, programming, etc. It’s like a mini-graduate school! But without the credit, or the loans.

Here’s my project, the Grass Saver Garden, v1, aka “The Plant Killer”

Here are my photos from ITP Camp 2014 Photos on Facebook

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

ITP Camp 2014 Photo Album Cover

I’m focusing on skills around 3D printing, laser cutting and basic electronics with solar panels by making a project that uses all three called the Grass Saver Garden. The project is kind of silly, but it’s a learning project. Simply put, I want to have a solar powered raised bed garden that will allow people to grow a garden, without digging up any of their lawn.