• The Parallax Discussion Forums

    by Published on 03-19-2014 10:05 PM

    Parallax Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Educational Program

    Will flying robots be a big part of future educational robotics programs?

    They're everywhere right now, most recently last weekend on this 60 Minutes "Drones over America" video. Putting the media-loved "drone" terminology aside for a bit, this program was a reminder for me that Parallax should consider doing what we did for robotics with the Boe-Bot for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) with the ELEV-8. After all, microcontroller education is what we do very well and although rolling robots provide a very strong starting point, there's a next step some educators are asking about: flying robots.

    We are considering the planning of a UAS educational program.

    Education requires a known, finite yet expandable system

    Consider where Parallax might fit into the UAS educational market (which I really don't think exists yet) with the ELEV-8 products. First, let's recognize that the Chinese and domestic suppliers like DIY Drones have progressed their capabilities beyond the ELEV-8 so our hardware and software features alone aren't all that impressive from an end-user standpoint (yet the Hoverfly system flies better than anything I've worked with). However, most people using these are only assembling them and configuring them with a PC. My guess is that fewer people outside of embedded programming circles (and less in educational environment save MIT) have a real understanding of how they are built, how the subsystems operate, and could actually program them on their own like we show people with our robot kits. And it doesn't take a complex UAS to truly learn how they work - the ELEV-8 with the Hoverfly Open board (and an external add-on accelerometer and GPS board) provides more than enough for a UAS educational program that could be used in community colleges and universities. My point is that I don't think we'd be short on features for an educational UAS platform.

    Personal responsibility and safety go together in education

    Programming provides more assurance that individuals take real personal responsibility over what they fly. This is particularly true in education - next to safety a first lesson must be that a user take responsibility over everything they put into the sky. UASs in education shouldn't be about cobbling pieces together and attaching more stuff to them, but actually learning how to code the individual sensors and integrate them into a whole system. To take responsibility means you need to build and program it yourself, even if it involves stepwise instructions and debugging examples along the way.

    A new economy requires developers, not just users

    Economists are also talking about how "drones" represent a totally new economy. To have an economy around UASs we have to know more about how to build and program them. While I understand from my volunteer work in most educational environments [at least in lower levels] that few students will take a real interest in the actual engineering (the mechanical design, software development, fabrication) as a result of what I've shared, the reality of turning their enthusiasm into a career - and growing a new UAS economy - means that students must know how to create drones from the pieces. An educational UAS program could truly foster this kind of innovation. Do you know how many engineers we've met who said their first programming experience was with a BASIC Stamp in What's a Microcontroller?

    It takes quality hardware to support an educational program

    We've got that part. What we are considering is the creation of a new educational program around our UAS, the ELEV-8. The picture above is a newly designed ELEV-8 v2 (same Hoverfly Open) but with far superior assembly process with minimal soldering, smooth 1100 kV motors with collet-free prop adapters, and a far more stable design. My thoughts are that the ELEV-8 v2 could be combined with an add-on board including GPS and accelerometer to make a very high-quality educational UAS kit. And there's replacement parts - try getting those from a Chinese supplier before they make a revision and obsolete their hardware! We keep customers in the air.

    Flying robotic educational program

    Think about what we've done for the Boe-Bot and ActivityBot, but put it in the air. Imagine a kit and booklet (yeah, a printed spiral bound one also available on-line) which students step through in 60-minute class sessions. They could learn:
    • The mechanical assembly process, proper soldering techniques, a bit about choice of materials
    • The principle and theory of operation, along with some of the calculations
    • Voltage, current, capacity to properly serve the loads of the system
    • How to configure ESCs from a microcontroller
    • Program and test the sub-systems (gyro, accelerometer, GPS, lighting control)
    • Putting these systems together and flying the UAS for the first time
    • Application of STEM and Common Core standards, so it has a "fit"
    • Learning to fly responsibly and how to use the UAS for some real-world applications
    • Open-source, top to bottom hardware and software
    Sure, these pieces are explained throughout the internet. But students and teachers don't have time to scrounge for the curriculum. They need it in a box, with proper support and training. If you've ever worked with our products in a classroom, you know how exciting this could be! There's nothing a teacher loves more than to see students truly engaged in the project.

    So I ask you - particularly those involved in education - what would you like to see in a UAS educational program if we were to produce one? Share your honest thoughts because we would like to hear them.


    Ken Gracey
    by Published on 08-05-2013 05:22 PM

    Hello All,

    Some of you may be familiar with coming here to read news posts about what's new at Parallax and our travels around the world. That content is now being updated on the homepage of our new website!

    We've been very busy creating a new website to better showcase this type of information. If you'd like to see our recent news please visit our new website at www.parallax.com.


    The Parallax Team
    by Published on 06-28-2013 08:43 PM

    Every year at our fiscal year end we put on our grubby work clothes and clean the entire building inside and out. Inventory is counted, windows are cleaned, the exterior is power washed, blinds are dusted, desks are disinfected, ceiling tiles are replaced, paint is touched up, floors are scrubbed, warehouses are organized, and so much more. It is a hard day of work but it is a fun day of work as most all of us get to work with people we normally do not, doing tasks we normally don't do either. This is Parallax team building at its finest. Thank you for supporting us in another year of business. Our building is clean and bright and ready for what the new fiscal year will bring.

    Parallaxians in their fancy new Summer hats.

    A certain Parallax president riding his unicycle in the building.