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Local Students Take to the Sky

March 28, 2018

This article was written by Taylor Nadauld and published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Read the original article here.

 An unmanned aerial vehicle buzzed like a bee Tuesday morning above the outskirts of Moscow, its camera surveying a muddy patch of land at the University of Idaho's Parker Farm, 100 feet below.

It was a small drone: a four-propeller, DJI Spark. Its pilots, a couple of 14-year-olds from Moscow Middle School, Barrett Abendroth and Jackson Prestwich, stood near a licensed pilot as they controlled the drone's direction with joysticks and watched the camera's view on an electronic tablet from the ground.

The two were among dozens of local middle and high school students who learned to fly the drone and program their own devices Monday and Tuesday as part of a series of workshops from the U of I's new Idaho Drone League (I-Drone) program.

The sight of a drone hovering through the air could become more and more common in the coming decades. Kirsten Lapaglia, director of STEM Access Projects with U of I, predicted drones will become as common to own as a personal laptop within the next 20 years.

More immediately, their versatile and dynamic uses also make drones an accessible tool for students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics, Lapaglia said.

That is why, in the past week, she and her colleagues at the U of I have offered statewide drone workshops geared toward introducing students to STEM careers.

On Tuesday, students rotated through a handful of free workshops at the Best Western Plus University Inn, where they made posters detailing how they would use drone technology to improve the world, programmed their own miniature drones and took turns heading to Parker Farm, where they were given missions to complete using drone technology.

"It's like a stressful video game," Prestwich said after he and Abendroth safely guided the DJI Spark back to its makeshift launching pad at the park. "If you crash, it's $400 down the drain."

Students also got a practical take on the use of drones in the career field, hearing from local adults who use drones on the job, including members of the Pullman Police Department and U of I's Northwest Knowledge Network, a unit within the U of I's Office of Research and Economic Development that provides research data management and computing support for U of I researchers.

"The cool thing is, with the right equipment, and it doesn't even have to be super sophisticated, there's some pretty amazing things that you can do with drones," NKN Research Applications Architect Jennifer Hinds told students at a presentation on drone mapping that morning.

Most commonly, NKN Web Developer Gina Wilson said, drones are used to map and survey large areas of land, detect thermal energy or assess stress on croplands.

The technology could be especially useful to farmers, who could use drones to monitor soil moisture and make efficient decisions for distributing resources, Lapaglia said.

"Almost all agriculture is on the verge of using drones to monitor crops, and especially in the state of Idaho, that is incredibly relevant," Lapaglia said. "Agriculture is very important in our state for various people, not just the farmers themselves."

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at