Quad Camp NU: Teaching Students to Build and Fly Drones

Quad Camp NU is an educational class that I co-founded in the spring of 2018 to teach students the basics of drone construction and flight. Proposed through AerospaceNU, this project was the first drone-related group in the club and served as the foundation for the establishment of Northeastern UAV (NUAV) a semester later. This post talks about my efforts to build and organize a regular class for students that are new to the club to gain exposure to aerospace and robotics fields.

The project was centralized around first-person-view (FPV) quadcopters, which are small, manually piloted drones for racing and cinematography. Sourced from commercially available components and assembled as custom kits, the builds make excellent learning tools for students just learning to solder, fly, and understand how drones work. The class is held every fall semester with slots open for ~20 students. The other project leads and I teach the course over 8 weeks using our collective experience in FPV and research to guide students into the field with as little entry barriers as possible.

The first full-size class was in Fall of 2018. The semester had started with drastic budget cuts for AerospaceNU’s projects though we managed to make do with recycled parts and donations from team pilots. I helped create a detailed curriculum for the fall 2018 class that ended up being so popular that we hosted a spring class the following semester as well! The curriculum focuses on teaching students the basic function of electrical components like ESCs, flight controllers, radio/video receivers and transmitters, and cameras. The first few weeks of the class involved students breaking into groups of 4 and constructing their drone kits from the provided parts and guide. Leads were there to answer questions and provide help but for the most part, students were given the tools to physically build the drones by themselves. Following builds, students were guided into flight simulator training using Velocidrone. With a week or 2 of practice, groups were ready to go to the field and fly!

Quad Camp Recruiting at a Club Fair

Quad Camp Spring 2019

Students Work on Various RC Projects at a Quad Camp Meeting

2018-2019 Quad Camp Drone

Spring 2019 Fly-in

Fall 2018 Fly-in

Following the huge success of the first few Quad Camp classes, we decided to revise the curriculum for the fall of 2019. With the emergence of NUAV’s research projects like Swarm Carrier and Rocket Locator, we decided to incorporate technical components into the curriculum. Here, a detailed guide was made for students to build quadcopters within the first 3 weeks before transitioning to custom airframe and flight controller design using OnShape and EasyEDA respectively. With this new curriculum, the goal was to teach students more intermediate skills relating to the engineering that goes into making drones fly. It also exposed them to basic CAD and PCB design. Like before, groups eventually transitioned to simulator training and fly-ins. In the end, the fall 2019 class was the largest ever with 6 groups completing the course.

2019-2020 Quad Camp Drone

Pilots Get Ready to Fly: Fall 2019

Pilots and Co-pilots at the Fall 2019 Fly-in

Another aspect that made the 2019 quad camp classes special was the use of buddy-boxing with radio transmitters. This allowed our project leads to take control at any moment during a student’s flight, therefore saving crashes and allowing them to learn much more rapidly. In the end, the fall 2019 class was a fun time for everyone involved and gave students the knowledge to become involved in NUAV’s research projects.

Plans for the fall 2020 class are currently in the works with an emphasis on virtual simulator sessions and potential fly-ins with existing gear. Subsequent classes will be more flight-focused earlier on as to interest and then expose students to technical aspects about drone construction. These classes have been crucial for the development of the club and I look forward to teaching them in the coming semesters once again.

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