Droids and Drones broadens STEM knowledge for deaf high school students

Drone in flight

Twenty-seven deaf or hard of hearing students in grades 10-12 from the Southeast attended Droids and Drones at UAH.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Deaf and hard of hearing students in grades 10-12 have been spending time this week at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) at Droids and Drones, a free summer program UAH is hosting at the Conference Training Center that is offered through the Rochester Institute of Technology National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT-NTID).

The program, supported by UAH’s Systems Management and Production (SMAP) Center, is being attended by 27 high school students from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee explore a range of career options and opportunities in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and robotic technology. The information also can help them select a major as they begin to look at colleges.

"RIT, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, UAH and SMAP are all working together to make it happen," says Steven Forney, a research associate at SMAP who has been working closely with the high school students as instructor for 3-D printing and drone technology, and who is also deaf.

"Campers are introduced to the 3-D printing and drone technologies, learning about various of careers in UAV/robotics, discovering what types of careers fit their interests and participating in hands-on demonstrations in robotic engineering, drone technology and aviation physics," he says.

Campers are also learning to build and fly their own 3-D printed drone using a Raspberry Pi-based laptop called Pi-Top, Forney says, as well as taking the opportunity to tour the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Mark Sommer, RIT-NTID senior director of outreach, heads the program.

"They are taking their own Pi-Top laptops and 3D printed mini-drone with them when the event is over," Forney says. "And this brings their knowledge of STEM careers closer to home. They will even be able to educate other deaf and hard of hearing students about STEM careers."

Being involved with the program has its high points, Forney says.

"The most amazing moment was watching all 27 students try to fly their own mini-drone indoors for the first time," he says. "Within less than a hour after they tried to fly, they all had already mastered flying the drone. They all are gifted."