Drone Coding Trials

The ability of humans to communicate with machines is fast becoming a necessity. Foundations of Programming, taught by Joe Raciti, provides students with the basics of programming language Python and the opportunity to see how their code functions in the real world. The ubiquity of drone aircraft makes them seem familiar to students but the precision required for their successful use creates a next-level challenge. Divided into four students per team and with four challenges to attempt, class members wrote code designed to fly tiny DJI drone copters through a series of maneuvers and timed trials.
Teams had to carefully measure distances to write accurate code and to keep the drones in the air. One test required a drone to take off and land in each of four quadrants of a square of tape on the floor of Holbrook. Others involved figure-eight circumnavigations of the pillars and windows outside the Warner Gallery and a speed and distance trial around the bottom floor of Holbrook. Trial and error are part of coding and more common for beginning programmers. In testing and competition, there were a few drone crashes but no injuries. Engineering in real time, students became adept at repairing drones and troubleshooting code during practice runs in the hopes of being competitive when it counted.
Writing code for drones just prior to takeoff created a unique experiential learning opportunity. “My hope is that seeing something respond in the real world to coded instructions gives the kids a more intuitive understanding of their code,” said Joe Raciti.
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