Paint Factory Flyers Robotics Club Heads Outdoors!

As previously mentioned, Ocean Alliance has a pretty nice robotics lab (in a modified shipping container) here at the Paint Factory that we use for developing oceanographic research tools. We thought it would be a little greedy to keep such a wonderful resource to ourselves, so we started a hobby club about 8 months ago. Through this club, we are not looking to replicate what is going on in the local school programs – as but add to them and have fun while developing skills. Key words are Exploration, Discovery, Collaboration and Application. I hope that one day the kids who are involved now will run the club, mentor younger kids and develop new research tools for Ocean Alliance.

At its most basic level the club is trying to develop 4 skill areas:

1. Construction – making and repairing models/machines.

2. Soldering – wiring and connecting circuit boards

3. Programming – a lot of the flying machines we use have computers that need to be told what to do. I had a programming problem with one of my drones that was explained and sorted out for me by a 14 yr old last week.

4. Flying – we have 3 simulators, that can be used for plane, boat, quad copter & car simulations.

Once kids have qualified on the simulators they can then fly our machines. They can of course fly their own machines any time they want. Currently club members are building radio controlled foam airplanes (about a foot in length). Older kids are working on the electronics packages, younger kids  are working on the planes. Right now we have about 50 people on our mailing list, which means that in average that about 20 people come to our weekly club meetings. Usually, we have 6 or 7 adults and the rest are children. We call the club members the PF Flyers.

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Here are the foamie kits that we are currently building.We are OK to have kids bring in their own equipment to work on, or they can work on new projects at the club Thanks to a grant from the Applied Material Foundation, we are able to provide all of the tools and materials that the kids need for the club free of charge – there is no fee or cost to join the club. Participants can keep the plane they build but we do not give them the RC controller or receiver (cost of $150 and up). When at club activities, we do loan out controllers and receivers. Participants can come to the club for 30 minutes and run a simulator, or stay the full 2 hours and build a plane, drone, car or boat. There is no maximum or minimum participation – members just need to bring their enthusiasm.

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Here is an example of the drone work that we do as oceanographers. With the great weather we’ve had here in Gloucester, the PF Flyers were out in force on Wednesday, flying at the Seine field in East Gloucester. We had over 20 participants, with more than 15 bringing their own build and or bought machines (most bringing more than one machine). There were tricopters, quadcopters, 3 different kinds of FPV (first person view) systems (these systems give the pilot the feel of actually flying from the cockpit), sail planes, foam planes and even a 3 foot wingspan scale piper cub. I once knew a professional rally car driver, who used to say that when losing control of a car don’t look at a tree that you are scared of hitting, look at the gap between the trees. It was amazing to me how many foam planes crashed into the one tree at Seine field (no trees were harmed) – because the flyers were so focused on missing the tree, the planes seemed to keep going that way!

Not one, but two drones up there!

Not one, but two drones up there!

It has been a real pleasure for all of us here at OA to develop this club. It’s a great feeling, seeing all the kids working together, flying and learning and having fun on a sunny Gloucester evening – who could ask for more? Currently the youngest pilot is an 8 yr old girl and our of respect I will just say that the oldest is many decades older. Last but not least, it was great to have some RC pilots visiting and flying with us from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

As we look to the future of the club our goals include:

-Establishing a permanent residence for the Applied Environmental Robotics Laboratory and Youth Club Program in the (currently being restored) brick buildings at the Paint Factory. We are now at capacity for the club so we need a bigger space.

-Continuing to outfit the program with necessary kits and materials so that kids can join build and learn at no charge.

-Continuing outreach to local youth and K-12 schools.

-Integrating the youth club into real-world applications or making the connection to real-world applications.

If you want more information on the club and/or are interested in supporting this effort with donated time or funds, please contact Iain Kerr at Kerr@whale.org