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Guam School Kids Become Drone Pilots!

Written by Greg Barnes

Greg and Dong from 2cofly lead a real-life drone mission with hand-picked students!
Greg and Dong from 2cofly, with hand-picked student RPIC and VOs from Finegayan Elementary School!

Recently, 2cofly got the wonderful opportunity to speak in front of two schools and give a drone presentation to their students! But rather than simply talk about drones and have the students watch us fly, we wanted to give them a more interactive experience. That’s why we chose 3 volunteers and guided them in planning and carrying out a real-life photogrammetry mission!

Mission outcome? To create an orthomosaic map of the school itself! Links to these maps are at the bottom of this post, so you can see these actual student-created maps!!

It was a great honor for Dong and me to visit Finegayan Elementary School to do this once, and University of Guam’s summer school program a whopping 3 times!!

Kids stare in amazement as one of 2cofly's drones launches
Lewis: "Everywhere we go, there’s always drones." Today's novelty of seeing a drone fly will soon wear off as drones become commonplace.

But why were we invited? I asked Lewis Billimon, 4-H Program Coordinator and teacher of the classroom that invited us. “We always wanted to do modules, something up-to-date," Lewis said. "And we noticed that drones are one of the things that’s coming up every day. We notice they use them for construction, for safety, for farms, and everywhere we go, there’s always drones — there’s some kind of drone that’s involved in the workplace. So that’s why we reached out to your company.” He told us that his boss is a Palauan man who had heard we’d gone to Palau (and loved it, by the way!), and that boss told him to reach out to us. (You can read all about our first trip and second trip to Palau right here on our blog!)

Jeni Ann Flores, 4th grade educator at Finegayan Elementary School, is also the drone program teacher at her school! Jeni and her amazing work with the kids has been featured in the local news a few times recently! So it was a natural fit for her to reach out to a local drone company about a potential visit to the school.

2cofly teaching summer school students about drone crew roles & responsibilities
Teaching the kids about crew roles & responsibilities

The rundown of our presentation was similar at both schools. After opening with a 60-second inspirational video we made about the world of drones, we taught the kids about how important a good crew is to a successful drone mission. We taught them the roles and responsibilities of the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) and Visual Observers (VOs) — and then we chose 2 VOs and one RPIC right from within that group of students!!

We taught the kids all the bare basics of creating a drone mission plan: checking the airspace, confirming we were authorized to fly, and checking the weather. We walked them through using online software to create an autonomous flight plan, so that the drone would actually fly itself and take photos appropriate for creating an orthomosaic map. Before stepping out of the building, we outfitted our crew with real-life safety vests and hard hats we ourselves use while out on the field.

2cofly with a student-led drone mission at UOG's summer school program
Our VOs placed the safety cones and kept others out of the area.

Once outside, we showed the kids how important proper safety measures are. We had the VOs place 4 safety cones — one near each corner of the launch / landing area — and told the student body to stay away from that area. When the drone was about to launch, we had the RPIC announce to his classmates that we were about to launch, and to stay away from that area. Then, the RPIC, himself a student, got to hold the drone controller and press the Launch button!

When the drone took off, the kids began clapping and cheering, and we told them they could come out onto the field and watch the drone as it zigzagged back and forth, taking the photos necessary for our orthomosaic map. On the map we created of Finegayan Elementary, you can actually see the kids excitedly scattered across the center court!

After a very short 3- or 4-minute flight, the kids stepped back under the portico as the drone descended, clapping again upon landing!

Greg and Dong from 2cofly give a drone Q&A to students.
After the mission, while waiting for the orthomosaic to stitch, we did Q&As.

Once we went back inside, Dong led the RPIC on what to do on the computer to begin the process of stitching the photos together to create our map, and we explained those steps to the kids. While we waited for the computer to process the images, Dong and I answered all the questions the kids had, handing candy out to those who remembered some of the facts we’d mentioned before.

(Those kids were smart! They asked so many really good questions — the kinds of questions that real-life drone pilots need to ask themselves, such as, “What happens when the drone doesn’t respond to controller input?” “What do you do if the drone flies away?” and other really important safety questions that are a part of every responsible drone pilot’s standard operational procedure.)

Finegayan Elementary School buildings: Google Maps vs 2cofly's orthomosaic maps
Finegayan Elementary School buildings: The stark difference between Google Maps and 2cofly's orthomosaic maps

When the orthomosaic was done being stitched together, we showed the kids the stark difference between Google Maps and our own map we created that day — the former being low-resolution, off by a number of feet, and way out of date! In contrast, our student-made orthomosaic maps were very high-resolution, location-accurate, and up-to-date, having been created right then!!

Jeni warmed our hearts when she told us that “the imaginations of Finegayan summer school students have been sparked by this visit by Dong and Greg of 2cofly. You have touched the future. Now everyone wants to be a drone pilot. We cannot thank you enough.”

"Would you have us back?" I asked Lewis, the 4h program coordinator and teacher from the UOG summer school program. I loved his simple response: he chuckled the words “Heck yeah!”

Dong and Greg from 2cofly at Finegayan Elementary School
After our mission at Finegayan Elementary School!

Dong and I thank Lewis and Jeni for inviting us, the wonderful kids who became part of our flight crew, all the students present for opening up their minds with us, and all the teachers in those schools who so obviously loved the students they taught. We’re glad if we could be an inspiration to you, but you guys were definitely an inspiration to us!

We are thankful for these invitations to speak to classrooms, and as always, we welcome any invitation from any school in the region that would like to have us come and present!

A student-led orthomosaic map of the UOG Agriculture Bldg
Student-led orthomosaic map of the UOG Agriculture Building.
Our student-led orthomosaic map of Finegayan Elementary School!
Student-led orthomosaic map of Finegayan Elementary School

Here are thumbnails of the orthomosaic maps that we guided the students in creating. Click the following links if you want to see for yourself the full map of the UOG Agriculture Building, or to see the full map of Finegayan Elementary School.

A couple notes:

  • On my Mac, only the Google Chrome browser works. Safari, Firefox, no luck. So if you load that page and see a black screen, try another browser.

  • First thing you'll notice: An oasis of a beautiful map in a desert of trashy, fuzzy imagery. That is our SUPER CLEAR map overlaid on top of really ugly underlying Google Maps data.

  • If you want a direct comparison between our map and Google Maps, that's easy! Zoom in to any point of interest on our maps (for instance, the blue playground area on the Finegayan map, or the blue handicap icon in the parking lot). On the right-hand side under the "Layers" button, uncheck either of the check marks. This will cause our map to disappear, so that you only see the underlying Google Map. So if you want to see the direct comparison between Google's data and ours, then uncheck, check, uncheck, check. You will be blown away by the difference in the imagery.

  • When you check and uncheck like that, you will see that the two maps are not completely aligned. That's because our map is location-accurate, and the Google Map is the one that is not correctly aligned! (Did you know that Google Maps deviates by that many feet? Check it out and see for yourself!)

  • If one area of the map appears pixellated, zoom in a bit, and it should clarify itself as the data loads.

  • Please play around in there! Zoom WAY in and see the detail, move all around, put your right foot in and shake it all about, whatever you want, just have fun!


blog written by

Greg Barnes

Operations Manager

(671) 689-7939

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