Luz has been hard at work for the past couple of months building her drone (quadcopter), and her work is finally paying off! Like any complex project, she's run into her fair share of obstacles. She has conquered them all so far, which is doubly impressive since she had no prior experience with either electronics or physics (she hasn't even taken a high school physics class yet!).

The video above was the first power-up test for Luz's drone servo motors--configured to be controlled simultaneously. Success! Very exciting!

Catalogue of Problems Solved:

  1. Where to start? The best way to learn to create with technology is to find good documentation. Luz developed some serious skills in this phase--frustrating at times, but that's what it takes to figure something out on your own. In this phase, she developed the following skills:
    • Vetting technological documentation for clarity, comprehensiveness, and in-depth explanations.
    • Effectively using Google to find information. If you don't work with students on a daily basis, it might surprise you to know that it's common to see students Google phrases like "where does the red wire go?". This is a skill we adults take for granted, but it's absolutely critical to self-driven learning.
    • Gleaning useful information from sources that are written far above your level of understanding. Technical articles and documentation is often written assuming at least a college degree. Independent learners need to be able to draw from all of their life experience to understand things far above their level
    • Recovering from false starts. Without having experience reading technological documentation, the only way you can learn how to evaluate it is to start using it to design your project. This can result in false starts when you discover that it has massive holes. Luz had two false starts with various quadcopter documentation, but finally found a resource that helped her understand the process she was undertaking.
  2. What parts do I need to build this? This is a tricky one with electronics--especially if you have no experience building circuits! After a primer from me about the basics of circuits and electronics (voltage, current, power, integrated circuits, hardware/software interface, etc.), Luz embarked upon a quest to create a list of parts. This involved:
    • Understanding the physics of basic circuits. In order to build and test a circuit, you need to understand how electricity flows through conductive materials, lest you explode your project. With a basic understanding of how electricity flows through a circuit, and how it interacts with a few key components, anyone can answer the question: "If I'm running 4 servo motors each with a max current of 6.7A and a max power of 84.4W, what does the voltage of my battery need to be?"
    • Evaluating dozens of components for compatibility. How do you tell the difference between this battery and this battery? Which one should I use? What kind of connector do I need for battery charging and discharge into the drone? Questions like this can only be answered through a process of building a parts list for a project and thinking through the build process before buying parts.
    • Finding compatible parts with free shipping (preferably not from China). Without giving thought to this, you could spend over $100 on shipping alone, so if the part you want is too expensive to ship quickly, you'll have to find a replacement part on Amazon Prime, SparkFun, or somewhere else we get free shipping. This can be a challenge and requires a deeper dive into the parts to understand what you can and can't substitute.
  3. Problems that came up along the way, solved by Luz:
    • How to solder wires and circuit boards without ruining the parts or the skin on your hands.
    • How to pick music that's not too embarrassing to be heard singing along to while soldering pins to your flight controller board.
    • Cutting and stripping wires to the proper length (to allow for mistakes/alternate uses later).
    • How to avoid shorted wires/electronic components.
    • Using a multimeter to test electronics and your own workmanship.
    • Understanding screw and screw hole threads.
    • Cutting strips of industrial velcro (much more challenging than it sounds).
    • Looking up wiring charts for non-standard servo motors.
    • Reading markings on integrated circuits and discerning function of IC pins.
    • Modifying connector ends/plugs for compatibility.
    • The importance of creating your own daily set-up and put-away procedures.
    • Understanding the particular workflow and process that makes you most productive.