Mount establishes drone-based robotics class in partnership with Brown University

Mount establishes drone-based robotics class in partnership with Brown University

PROVIDENCE – Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation to a Brown University professor, a high-flying new robotics curriculum is coming to high schools across Rhode Island.

The curriculum teaches students the basics of robotics in the process of building and programming their own autonomous aerial drones. It was originally developed as a college class by Stefanie Tellex, a computer science professor at Brown. The NSF grant enabled Tellex to adapt the curriculum for high schoolers and provide schools at no cost with the drone parts needed to teach it. This past summer, Tellex trained teachers at Mount Saint Charles to teach the course that will be offered this fall at the school.

The new curriculum is a partnership with Duckietown, an existing robotics education initiative that uses simple, ground-based robots. The new aerial addition to the Duckietown curriculum is dubbed DuckieSky.

The DuckieDrone was first developed by Tellex and a group of undergraduates at Brown a few years ago, and Tellex began using the drones to teach introductory robotics in 2017. The drones themselves are small and fairly simple, which Tellex says is by design. She wanted a platform that would be safe and inexpensive, but still sophisticated enough to teach key concepts.

Each quad-rotor drone is equipped with a camera and a small computer processor called a Raspberry Pi. In addition to assembling the drone’s physical parts, students learn how to program the drone to be able to fly on its own. That involves algorithms that help the drone figure out where it is in space and adjust its flight path accordingly. Students also learn key concepts related to safety, networking and communications.

Rick Simard, a computer science teacher at Mount Saint Charles Academy who participated in the training last month, said he’s excited to bring the curriculum to his school.

“What this will mean to our students is beyond words,” Simard said. “Computer science was once thought to be the future, however, it is no longer the future, it is the ‘now.’ This drone program covers the entire STEM program, and is a great addition to our growing computer science offerings including Advanced Placement courses.”