Looking for a drone for your students or kids? San Francisco-based startup Flybrix has developed a way to teach students from grade school to grad school about drones using Legos.
Flybrix creates kits of Lego bricks alongside propellers, a LiPo battery and Flybrix’s pre-programmed flight board that can be turned into a working drone in about 15 minutes. It’s intended for people age 14 and up to build on their own, but can also be built by kids with some help with their parents.
Flybrix launched in 2014 as a company that was working on a flying selfie camera that could hover in place. The engineers used Legos in their prototyping process.
“We had this ‘aha’ moment,” said Holly Kasun, chief operating officer at Flybrix — who sometimes is referred to as the “chief fun officer.”
Soon enough, the Lego prototype became the product.
The product fits perfectly into Kasun’s genealogy. She’s the daughter of a fifth grade teacher, and her grandfather has a PhD from Caltech and designed airplanes.
But Kasun says that while the drone is targeted at mostly junior high and high school students, everyone from young kids to professional engineers are using it.
“A younger student is going to start understanding a PCB and what sensors look like,” Kasun said. “They’ll be able to build a working vocabulary on topics related to electronics, physics and aerodynamics.”
And for students who master building the drone, they can then progress onto designing their own airframes. A Chrome extension also allows pilots to adjust settings and motor tune.
For advanced engineers, the Lego kit is a starting platform for serious development. Flybrix’s brain is an Arduino-compatible, 96Mhz ARM® Cortex-M4 processor that includes a barometer, a magnetometer, several indicator LEDs, ADC converters, SD card slot, bluetooth, and capabilities to add Wi-Fi and GPS modules, and its code is open-source.
Kasun said Flybrix kits are used in more than 300 classrooms. She says it’s a way to equalize the playing field for students who might be new to learning about engineering.
“I hear from so many teachers that while their kids are digital natives, their actual technical skills are all across the board,” Kasun said.
Most schools will have 2-4 students working on one kit together, and often the kits will make up a few days worth of lesson plans, including a lesson on building it, a lesson on motors, and a lesson on flight.
To be clear, Kasun says the drone isn’t really intended to fly as its main purpose. Lego bricks aren’t exactly the optimally aerodynamic material. But the Legos are useful in that no soldering is required, and they can be taken apart and rebuilt into different drone designs.
And Flybrix is more about learning the principles of flight and building, rather than using a drone to take pictures or maneuver through race courses at high speeds.
“Kids want to see this payoff and accomplishment,” Kasun said. “Does this thing i built fly? Does it not? That gets kids excited.”
Kasun hopes that Flybrix will help shape the next generation of drone industry leaders.
“A lot of parents, especially drone enthusiasts, want to know how to transfer their love for drones to their kids,” she said. “Now dad is able to extend his passion for drones to his daughter. Now she is into drones herself.”
Kasun is passionate about helping expose kids to STEM — whether or not they use Flybrix.
“Spend time with your kids and share experiences that lead them down that path,” she said. “Even if you’re not a technical parent.”