Science and Technology

The challenge of drones


by Jan Gillis ('07)

 
image: /_images/news/2016/02/drones-233666-1024-655x393.jpg

SUMMARY: Using six drones built by JMU students in the spring, the JMU Drones Project used collaborative learning, design thinking, social entrepreneurial skills and a variety of technologies to develop prototype solutions for real-world dilemmas.


From the February 2016 digital and Spring/Summer 2016 print issues of Madison

Madison magazine thanks staff writer Jen Kulju (‘04M) and the student participants for contributing the content for this feature. You can read Kulju’s feature online and check out the students’ blog.

Photo of drone

Drones: Good or bad, advantage or affliction, the future or the end?

For 15 weeks during the fall semester, 42 JMU students from seven majors across the arts, humanities and sciences took on the challenge of harnessing drone technology for society’s betterment. They participated in a class team-taught by entrepreneurs from NOVALabs in Northern Virginia and professors from four disciplines. Their goal: Determine how drone technology can be used to respond to global problems.

‘[The class] epitomizes the Madison Experience ... taking knowledge and putting it to use to “Be the Change.”’ — Josiah Lapolla (‘16), Physics and mathematics double major

Using six drones built by JMU students in the spring, the JMU Drones Project used collaborative learning, design thinking, social entrepreneurial skills and a variety of technologies to develop prototype solutions for real-world dilemmas. The students tackled problems associated with air pollution, river mussel populations, telemedicine, traffic monitoring, landmine detection and landmine disarmament. Their efforts offer resounding proof that JMU’s interdisciplinary approach to teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills yields powerful results. Facing design challenges as cross-functional teams allowed students the opportunity to seek the “sweet spot” of their collaboration and of their drones—which, according to participant Niklavs Barbars (’17), is “that perfect, beautiful design in functionality and performance.”

The teams worked on their projects in the new X Lab at Lakeview Hall, the former WVPT television studio on the shore of Newman Lake at the Port Republic Road entrance to campus. The lab, one of four X Labs on campus, is equipped with a variety of shop equipment, including soldering tools, a laser cutter, a vinyl cutter and welding tools. It also has 3D printers and telepresence robots that enable instructors from remote locations to interact with students in the lab.

Photo of JMU Drone Project demonstration

When asked about what they learned during a presentation of their projects, participants echoed the theme of working together with students from other disciplines and discovering their various approaches to problem solving. They also experienced and adjusted to differences in the ways students from other colleges and departments communicate.

Students also gained satisfaction from working to solve pressing societal problems. Senior Josiah Lapolla, a physics and mathematics double major, was in the course tasked with building drones, and then applied his knowledge on the JMU Drones Project’s landmine detection team. Lapolla says the class “epitomizes the Madison experience in that it is taking all of the knowledge built up over the years and putting it to use in order to ‘Be the Change’ in the world.”

Published: Friday, February 12, 2016

Last Updated: Friday, September 8, 2017

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