Recently, my local newspaper published an article about another robotics team in the area whose members have invested in a drone. Yes, a drone; and a nice one for the price.
When most people think of the word drone, they think of “bombing” Iraqis and Afghanis using a remote controlled plane. This point of view pisses me off to no end, because it makes the USAF seem primitive and evil, which is not the case. Drones bring no more civilian casualties than fighter-jets, and in fact generally carry guided missiles that can pick out select targets, and limit the amount of civilian casualties. This article I found online really lays out how I would look at armed drones, and I feel his last paragraph is a nice touch.
Of course, the Mount Vernon robotics team did not buy the $16.9million MQ-9 Reaper that our air force uses, but rather they purchased a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 for only about $300.
The article focuses on how they’re going to use their drone to take video of their football team during practice so that the coaches can better train the team. The team also hopes to assist farmers with crop inspection and police with traffic evaluation. Although all three of these ideas are certainly respectable and possibly even useful (especially the former), I’m not sure how practical their endeavor will be. I have also looked into buying a Parrot drone, for my own personal use, and I found it off-putting that the flight time varies between a mere 10 to 18 minutes (depending on the battery you buy). Whichever battery the team buys, I can make the conclusion that a quarter hour of video footage won’t be incredibly useful as a traffic monitoring device, nor will it probably be of use for crop inspection. I’m not sure if a football coach can really gain much from 18 minutes of aerial footage, but it’s certainly not as appealing as the article made the idea out to be. In addition to the negative side of my thoughts, I really don’t understand why they didn’t make their own drone. Any regular schmuck can go and buy a drone and film stuff, but given that these students are a part of a robotics team, I find it hard to see what it is that they did that any 12 year old couldn’t have done. After all, Parrot drones are generally flown with smart phones, and are incredibly user friendly; possibly the reason they bought it.
On the brighter side, I really do like what they’re doing for drones as a whole, and I feel that their incorporation of drone technology into the football games may give engineering a little more respect in the eyes of school administrators. I’ve discussed my resentment of the lack of respect we get from our school officials, and if we (robotics people in general) can prove that the field of robotic engineering is just as important (if not more important) as athletics, then I’m all for it. I will probably contact the Mount Vernon team within the week to ask them about their drone and how successful it has been for them. I would prefer to wait to purchase a drone like this until I know it’s not going to break the first time I fly it (I’ve received mixed accounts of durability, but most agree that it’s the best buy for the price).