High school drone project could save lives in water

32a2494d828a5a01fe093b3aee03bd80_originalFive seniors at King Low Heywood Thomas High School in Stamford, Connecticut won’t be going to class during the month of May.

Instead, they’ll be building something that could save your life, and it’s made possible by a drone.

It’s called Project Ryptide, and it’s an automatically inflating life preserver ring that snaps onto your drone. Lifeguards with the Ryptide attachment and life preserver would be able to snap it on within a few seconds, fly over to a swimmer in trouble, and deliver them a life preserver.

And it’s not just lifeguards who could use this. In fact, Piedra said this may come in most handy in places where there is no lifeguard.

“Any casual person going to the beach can bring their drone, and now they can be a sort of lifeguard,” said the project’s leader Bill Piedra. “They could deliver a personal flotation device and keep the person’s head above water.”

It’s not uncommon to see drones flying around beaches, operated by hobbyists wanting to take pictures.

“People may be at the beach with their drone all hooked up with a camera,” Piedra said.

But if something happened, the drone operator could easily attach the drone accessory in a matter of seconds.

“It literally fits on with some 3D printed clamps and a velcro strap,” he said.

The students worked on the project throughout the school year in their high school computer science and robotics class.

“That’s where we came up with this idea to use an Arduino micro controller,” Piedra said.

The students wrote the code in C++, which will become open-source once they are finished with the project. They use an Arduino Pro to drop any number of life rings, up to 4, with one button.

All the parts were designed on the school’s five 3D printers, which enabled them to do the prototyping quickly.

Designing the accessory wasn’t without its challenges.

“We tried attaching the thing straight to the drone, but as soon as the drone goes out of balance, it doesn’t work,” Piedra said. “It was an evolutionary process.”

To test their project, the students partnered with the Branford Fire Department, which has already been using drones to fight fires.553d0a3f17c90d87a5ec2ba6d513488d_original

“We did a demo to try to get somebody out of the ice,” Piedra said. “If somebody falls through the ice, it’s really one of the most dangerous things.”

Often, if people fall through ice on a lake, they panic and slip under the water, but don’t come back up to the hole they fell in, he said.

“One of the first jobs is just to keep the person floating,” Piedra said.

And a life preserver delivered by Project Ryptide could do just that.

The students launched a Kickstarter on Wednesday to begin taking orders to sell their product. Their goal is $10,000, and the Kickstarter ends April 15. So far, they have raised over 20% of their $10,000 goal.

Since the students’ school is a non-profit, the project has been made possible by Piedra’s company, Flying Robots, which will take on the students as interns. Piedra already has a solid track record for working with students on engineering projects.

A project in 2007 went to MacWorld where it raised money from investors and led one student to get a full scholarship from Carnegie Melon, he said.

The students’ high school offers students with good grades the opportunity to work on a senior project in lieu of going to class in May. For these robotics students, that means building and fulfilling orders placed from the Kickstarter.

As far as the money raised? All the profits will be divided between the students to use as scholarships for college.

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