Their popularity is growing, and with new features such as "intelligent altitudes," "humanised manaeovres" and "microspines" that enable them to land on ceilings and walls, drones and quadcopters have truly arrived.
As Raytheon UK's 2016 Quadcopter Challenge Regional Finals kicked off in Broughton, Wales on Saturday 11 June, competitors were excited to display their expertise in this burgeoning technology.
This year's national competition involves students selected from 14 schools around each of the company's major UK sites (Broughton, Glenrothes, Waddington, Harlow and Gloucester). Competitors build a fully functioning, four-bladed, multi-rotor, remotely piloted air system -- commonly known as a quadcopter.
Designed specifically for year eight and nine students, the challenge is part of Raytheon's commitment to fostering student interest in science, technology, engineering and math. Each school has been given an identical kit to create a unique quadcopter by modifying the flight characteristics and customising various components such as the frame design, under carriage and canopy.
Pilots in each team also have to develop skills to navigate the quadcopter through a course with obstacles along the way. To help them become more confident, they have access to simulation software to practice their technique in preparation for the competition.
On Saturday, regional finalists Flint High School battled it out in a 'game of drones' with local school, Ysgol Maes Garmon. The winning team, Eclipse, from Flint High School, will represent Broughton at the national finals to be held in Essex at the end of June.
Russell Davies, the Design & Technology, Art & Engineering Curriculum Leader at Flint High School who hosted the Broughton Challenge said: "The students are very motivated and enthusiastic, and they're learning so much about material properties, electronic control, circuit board assembly, battery safety and so on. They are thoroughly enjoying it and we're looking forward to the regional competition."
As part of the Welsh Government's drive to encourage young people into science and engineering, it has provided funding towards the purchase of equipment and software to enable both local schools in Broughton to participate in the national programme.
The Challenge is the creation of Raytheon UK's STEM ambassadors who have supported the students throughout the competition in after-school clubs and lessons, offering design advice, including aerodynamics, autonomy, programme management, microelectromechanical systems, control systems and battery technology.
Raytheon provides a comprehensive programme of STEM activities throughout the year as part of its worldwide effort to inspire the next generation to choose STEM careers. In the UK, in addition to the Quadcopter Challenge and its participation in the annual Cheltenham Science Festival, Raytheon offers engineering apprenticeships, graduate leadership programme positions in engineering and in-house training initiatives. The company also supports STEM-related programmes in primary schools, secondary schools, universities and colleges.
Overseas, in Australia, Raytheon has sponsored programmes including the "Imagination Factory," a hands-on exhibition that explains the principles of systems integration by showing students how things work together. And in the United States, Raytheon sponsors robotics competitions and the International Rocketry Challenge, mentors middle-school students and last year launched a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to build technology-driven "Centers of Innovation" at clubs that serve high populations of military families.
Suzanne Jude, head of Strategy and STEM Lead at Raytheon UK, said: "Working with schools, helping to create courses at universities, attending major outdoor events such as airshows, and organising competitions and challenges, all help to kindle a passion for STEM subjects in young people to develop a future generation with the right skill set to drive the UK's technology agenda."
The Quadcopter Challenge national final will take place on Thursday 30 June at Stow Maries Aerodrome, Chelmsford, Essex, when the students will put their creations through a series of challenges, designed by Raytheon UK, to test the designs for innovation, speed, agility and accuracy.