Why STEM fields are our future
The idea that technology is the future is not new. Not only is it the future however. It is very much the present and dominates our work, personal and leisure lives in almost every conceivable way. Rapid advancement is what allows us participate in a hobby that most never dreamed possible as a child. Drones are the things of yesterdays science fiction movies. Understanding how they work can be they keys to a bright future. Drones are the stepping stone to STEM fields.
What if the commitment (some might say addiction) to flying drones could grant greater insight to your technological self? What if it could give you real, and tangible skills and advantages to your future professional self?
Let’s dive into the ways that flying quadcopters has been complimented by all the technical skills I have amassed over the last few decades. For those born young enough to be enjoying this hobby as a child, how it might lead to a brighter future.
Drones are the stepping stone to stem fields. They are in general the biggest stepping stone to STEM fields of this generation.
What are STEM Fields
STEM refers to fields relating to Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. As we move more and more to a global economy of consumers, and technology continues to permeate our lives. Jobs will continue to move away from traditional fields to these STEM fields.
The demand for people with skills, passions and knowledge where these fields are booming as the worlds economies evolve. Technology of the past that can be enhanced by the technology of the future are at a crossroad today. The demand will for these individuals will continue to grow. Scientists, Technologists, Mathematicians and Engineers that are at the core of every major science discovery. They are every major character of science fiction stories that inspire the youth of today. Walk down the hallway of any NASA engineering office and you will see the evidence of Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future decorating the walls and cubicles.
According to the Executive Director of STEM Education Coalition in Washington DC, James Brown. “The future of the economy is in STEM, That’s where the jobs of tomorrow will be.”
Examples of FPV in STEM fields today
The DaVinci Surgical Robot
Intuitive Surgical, Inc, has developed one of the worlds leading Surgical Robots. The latest model of which the da Vinci Xi is an incredibly complex and amazing piece of technology. This surgical robot allows a Surgeon to see inside a patient from across the room. What is notable is that the surgeon performs this surgery via a First Person View! They sit at a console where their face rests into a 3D HD vision system. Tiny laparoscopic cameras inserted into small incisions allow a close up view inside the patient. This not only allows for much greater precision and a magnified view of the surgical site. Patients can recover faster due to the small incisions made. Laparoscopic incisions are far less invasive than cutting the entire abdomen open to perform surgery.
These amazing robots allow for much less invasive laparoscopic procedures that allow faster recovery and greater precision.
I had the amazing opportunity to take one of these robots for a test drive (NOT inside an actual patient), and the FPV feed is truly amazing. The dual HD camera setup allows for an unimaginable fully immersive view with depth perception. The da Vinci EndoWrist instruments allow for manipulation of micro instruments at a level of dexterity few humans could hope to achieve. It is unbelievable how inexpensive our goggle setups are like the HDO and Rapidfire combo. Best of all the system is smart enough to recognize undesired movements or tremors in the hand. It filters out these undesired movements, and does not pass that feedback into actual movement of the instruments. Are these types of filtering beginning to sound familiar? (I wonder what kind of PIDS this thing is using?)
ROBONAUT: The Robotic Astronaut
In the very late 90’s I was lucky enough to work on the building of the original Robonaut project. I remember running a delivery building to building at Johnson Space Center and seeing a hand sticking up from a filing cabinet. I was frozen in my tracks my mouth a gape, I had never seen anything like it. The hand and forearm was positioned on the cabinet almost exactly the same as the 1991 classic Terminator 2.
The following year, I got to work on the project itself. Today, a flight version of ROBONAUT has been created to perform EVA missions on the ISS. This allows an Astronaut to perform tasks outside the station without having to go outside. ROBONAUT can also act as an assistant would to a mechanic or a surgical tech to a Surgeon. He flew to the International Space Station on shuttle mission STS-133.
ROBONAUT can operate autonomously and via a First Person View setup. In the early days of Robonaut, off the shelf Sony Glasstron head sets were used, and later larger box style goggles were adopted. In those days, FPV or First Person View was not a common phrase outside of gaming. They referred to this control for ROBONAUT as “Telepresence”.
Author, with the first ROBONAUT prototype in the year 2000.
Critical STEM skills gained from flying Drones
Soldering and Electronics Wiring
It is amazing the amount of house hold items I have fixed after getting into FPV vs before. The amount of basic electronics skills one can gain can be extremely helpful, but these skills are truly valuable in many technology and science fields were repair, design, and development are both rare and sought after skills. Drones can be the introductory course that lets you learn while you have fun, which is always an easier learning opportunity than the classroom for both retention and depth of knowledge.
This is a key skill that really applies to all STEM fields but especially the Technology aspect. I realized a while back that one of the reasons I took so much to quadcopters is because of the high level of complexity it keeps you engaged. You are constantly learning. Break an arm on your frame? Getting no video, or your drone is twitching on one axis? All involve a series of troubleshooting steps of varying difficulty.
If you break it down it is really a union of 3 separate hobbies(building, flying repairing). Because of my career in IT, I tend to try to help people constantly and I just switch into Analyst/Tech support mode and help people troubleshoot. Just as a muscle car enthusiast a few decades ago might have ended up chief mechanic at a high end dealership. Today’s drone pilots may end up in a variety of technology related careers inspired by the learning that started with drones. Developing these skills in a hobby setting can allow extra years of development before ever reaching the workforce.
Software configuration, and back end commands
Software configuration including back end text commands, iterative adjustments for desired outcomes (ie: experimentation and tuning). One of the skills I have actually seen dwindle in some young people are computer skills. In the 90’s and early 2000’s in order to be “online” and communicating with people throughout the world you needed to have a basic set of computer skills. If you were into music, games, or other electronic hobbies you needed even more knowledge to manipulate software on the front and back ends. Today’s youth are starting to see these skills are fade because all young people need to be connected now is a cell phone. Interacting with Betaflight, Butterflight, Race One, Kiss, BLHeli and the other software needed for Quadcopters offer a learning curve that is steep but satisfying once mastered. It also gets users used to regular updates where new features must be learned, and incorporated into existing builds in order to continue success.
Fast reflexes, Fast thinking
The ability to think and make decisions at the speed that flying a Drone requires, is an exercise in training your brain to operate on a new level of speed.
Adaptive fast learning, and fast thinking is a skill that few of us get to practice regularly and this ability is key for working in any STEM based field especially when solving new problems.
Drone pilot HungryShark, competes in a local Drone Race
Coordinating races, channel assignments, setting up and taking down tracks can help to build valuable project management skills. A well experience race coordinator can be the difference between a race that starts at 10:00 am lasting till 3:00pm or 7:00pm.
Pilot Limon, and Drone World Owner James Vau, coordinate Race at Drone World.
I have been fortunate to work in careers that have allowed me to work along side Rocket Scientists and Brain Surgeons. Scientists, Technologist, Engineers and Mathematicians all work in very different arenas. But one thing they all share is the thirst for knowledge. Many say that our new generation is crippled by a heavy reliance and obsession with technology. I wanted to point out the ways that these traits if focused in the proper direction can be great assets. We can grow the Scientists, Engineers and Technologists of tomorrow that will make all of our lives better. We can turn their annoying obsessions into training for future discoveries.
Growing up the only way I could hope to achieve flight was playing an 8 bit game on a Nintendo Entertainment System. Well, I guess there was that one the time I tried to make a flying suit and ended up in the Emergency room for stitches to my forehead.
As early as a decade ago, only hero’s like Pilots, or Astronauts could ever hope to fly. Today, anyone with the patience to take on the journey of FPV can achieve that same lofty goal.
I am hopeful and inspired that many of the top pilots in the world are teenagers. And I am eager with anticipation to see in the next few decades that great things they do. And I look forward to seeing what future discoveries started from drones the stepping stone to STEM fields.