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. 

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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.

Makerspace Expo Room at Dynamic Landscapes 2014 Conference in Burlington Vermont.

documentation, General, Projects

I co-coordinated, with Donna Sullivan-MacDonald of the Vermont Library Association, a Makerspace Expo Room at this years Dynamic Landscapes conference in Burlington, VT at Champlain College’s Fireside lounge.

The open format with hands-on activities, student projects and local Maker-folk turned out to be a great success! Here’s some media.

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Keynote speaker Gary Stager recording video of an excellent student maker project.

Keynote speaker Gary Stager recording video of an excellent student maker project.

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Custom 3D printer swag. Dynamic Landscapes 2014 ring

Custom 3D printer swag. Dynamic Landscapes 2014 ring. Customized from thingiverse object: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:314813

 

Brattleboro Area Makers (BAM) visits SurfaceGrooves.com and their 150 Watt Laser Cutter

General, Travel Reports

Our monthly meeting of Brattleboro Area Makers visited new Gilford Vermont makers, Elissa and Ryan, owners of SurfaceGrooves.com. Elissa and Ryan were kind enough to walk us through a quick laser cutter tutorial. They also showed us some of their excellent work. Impressive, educational and we got a “BAM” logo cut out of some scrap!

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut
Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

Brattleboro Area Makers gets a laser cut

 

Glad we insulated this old house in Vermont, basement to attic. Good payback.

Projects

I’m glad we insulated the crap out of most of the 1300 square feet of this 1907 house. Plus the full basement. I’ll tell you why.

Today was bitter cold, about 5 degrees all day, not counting wind. But it was sunny. With Laura and baby Shaw gone, I turned down the thermostat to 55 and went to work at 7:15am for an early meeting. I came home at 6:30pm figuring the house would be at 55 degrees. To my surprise the downstairs was 56 and the upstairs was 59! I could feel the warmth on the south side rooms especially. We don’t have big windows, but we keep them clean and unobstructed for solar gain. Amazing!

We did do about 7K worth of insulating over two years, lots ourselves to save money. We got about $2500 back in rebates.

Now we use about 350 gallons (Roughly $1200/yr at 3.50 a gallon), for heat and hot water. We have a boiler that does our hot water for sinks and showers even in summer, with no storage tank, and heat. It’s not efficient, but it is at least a good model from early 2000. We’re working on getting a hybrid heat pump water heater next month.

When we bought the house, they used 750 gallons a year! So far, so good.