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Meet the Two Winners of Our Drone Technology College Scholarship

BY Zacc Dukowitz
24 May 2018

This year we launched the Drone Technology College Scholarship, which was created to provide financial support for college to students who demonstrate an interest in pushing the drone industry forward.

Each of our two scholarship recipients will receive $1,000 to support their college studies. We’re proud to announce the winners in this post—read on to meet our two winners, and to read their winning essays.


Scholarship applicants were evaluated based primarily on the strength of the essay they submitted, which was written on one of three topics:

  • How Drones Can Be Used to Do Good
  • How Drones Will Change Our World Over the Next Ten Years
  • How Drones Can Be Used for STEM Education

And now, without further ado, we’re proud to introduce the two scholarship winners of our very first Drone Technology College Scholarship.

Summer Roberts


Summer is a Junior at Cal Poly Pomona, where she is currently a Geography major with an emphasis in Geospatial Science. She is the Vice President of the CPP Geography Club, and she is a member of the AAG (American Association Geographers) and the CGS (California Geographical Society).

Summer plans to obtain her Remote Pilot Certificate to fly UAVs from the FAA, and she is currently pursuing a seat on the campus Drone Policy Committee, which helps ensure the reasonable and safe use of drones on campus.

Summer’s Winning Essay

Essay Topic: How Drones Can Be Used for STEM Education

Cal Poly Pomona’s “Learn by doing” approach has strongly encouraged the benefits of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Learning with a more hands on approach, particularly at Cal Poly Pomona, there are a multitude of benefits for drones in the STEM education. The practical approach of STEM learning is beneficial when used through collaboration with other software, discovery, and having a ‘learn-by-doing’ mindset. Through the use of UAVs (Small Unmanned Vehicles/ Drones) students would be able to have a foundation built on an awareness of perspective and distortion, constantly being aware of industry trends and technology innovation.

Combining the use of drones with Remote Sensing and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) provides valuable opportunities for research and education. Drone capture is processed into ‘same day’ orthomosaics and surfaces from which we can extract information, uncover change, and open discovery. Drones are often referred to as ‘toys’ but if that definition works to attract more young people into learning applications and selecting a career path, as it did for me, so be it! An important factor to cover is the practical applications and lessons we need to emphasize for students entering the work force. Technology is always changing and it is crucial to keep the future workforce aware of technological advances. Not having been introduced to drones by my university gives me all the more reason to be the one to introduce them.

An example of how UAVs could be involved in STEM surrounds my own progression in research. During my Advanced GIS class in the Winter 2018 quarter at Cal Poly Pomona, I found out about the possibilities of drones. The world of drone applications became of interest to me during an assignment in Advanced GIS at Cal Poly Pomona. I chose my project to utilize UAVs in collecting imagery and data, then creating weekly updates through map production and/or field work.

Through this class, online data collection was always a dreaded task, and I wanted to collect my own information to present for our weekly presentations. Knowing this, I shared my vision on how drones can provide valuable imagery and surface modeling without having to use granular, outdated satellite imagery. Not surprisingly, my presentation inspired my Professor (Dr. Huh) who herself is now pursuing FAA 107 licensing and investing in two drones for use in teaching with the Geography department.

I envisioned the UAVs to be an integral part of my research and work within the field of Geography and Geospatial Science. I was honored to be included in a continuous project led by the Engineering/ Agricultural department at Cal Poly Pomona. The goal of the project is to determine the correlation between plant health, nutrient conditions, and water conditions using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) equipped with sensors to detect the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Geographic Information System (GIS) will be used to statistically map the biomass of crops to help determine the efficiency of plant growth. Through this project I have learned the power of learning things hands on.

Having students systematically collect consistent data through with a drone not only helps them gain an awareness of field work, but it introduces confidence into taking charge of one’s own research project on all aspects. The use of sUAV in the field of Geography provides wonderful STEM opportunities, particularly Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing, by engaging project-based lessons from the research question, collecting the data ourselves, understanding challenges, and overcoming problems to analyzing familiar data. This requires professional development. Not only are drones beneficial in the Geography/GIS world, drones could be used over a multitude of subjects. Some of these include math, or even plant science. Personally, math is a hard subject to grasp. Being a visual learner, by having an engaging tool, such as a drone, lessons could surround real world applications for equations, giving the lesson meaning. An example of using a drone for math would be measuring a certain area, or how to accurately utilize an area numerically. For plant science, by using a Sequoia sensor, a camera that captures the crop health analysis, students would be able to visually scout out where potential stressed areas are for a given crop and analyze the area accordingly. The possibilities are endless.

Drones provide a platform to teach in an alternate view. Learning from a book or gathering data online can only do so much. By have this vital tool, teachers have the choice of bringing their lessons to life. Drones offer a way to analyze data visually through a qualitative and quantitative understanding. Through this type of data collection, the data speaks out to a variety of different learning styles. By introducing UAVs to STEM education, not only will an excitement of learning be introduced, a new wave of visual learners will become confident in contributing to the fields.

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Benjamin Breiten


Ben is a student at the Hudson Valley Community College in Albany, NY. He’ll be graduating in May with an Associate’s degree in Electrical Engineering Technology and Electronics.

Originally a student at the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), Ben decided to pursue an interest in electronic and robotic systems and appliances at Hudson Valley, where their curriculum has allowed him to focus on mechatronic applications. He’ll be returning to CNSE in the fall, and plans to finish a bachelor’s degree in Nanoscale Science and Engineering with a minor in Music by May 2019.

Ben holds a Remote Pilot Certificate, and currently works with UAVs through his business DR1 doing videography and photography, as well as drone repair. He plans to expand his drone work in the future, and include new possible offerings such as aerial thermography and aerial surveying.

Ben’s Winning Essay

Essay Topic: How Drones Will Change Our World Over the Next Ten Years

In the coming years, a coalescence of energy technology, design considerations, and improved processing and control capabilities will enable small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) to accomplish virtually any task—indoors or outside—from the air. This could include food production or animal population control via autonomous targeting and hunting. It can include augmenting shipping yards by adapting swarms to efficiently transport crates based on their prescribed weight, or simply shipping those packages themselves. This technology has the potential to become ubiquitous in daily life, conjuring images of a small, floating, Jetson-esque Rosie the Robot. The capacity for sUAS to improve our overall quality of life is limited only by our creativity and our technological node.

There are many specific fields to which sUAS technology is already being applied, such as agriculture, geographic mapping, cinema, and defense. These fields are growing very quickly with respect to the use of sUAS, and the introduction of these new and improved tools has entirely revamped or replaced current technologies. As it continues to develop and is embraced by other disciplines, the number, quality, and variety of applications of this technology will grow unabated. Not only is there plenty of room to expand in any number of established fields, but there are also opportunities to discover new applications for sUAS every day.

One application in particular that has attracted attention is aerial thermography. Exchanging the camera lens with an infrared lens gives a drone the capability of detecting electromagnetic radiation outside of our visible spectrum, namely in the infrared region. Infrared data is primarily utilized to determine the amount of thermal energy an object is emitting, and a thermal camera allows us to characterize that energy in the context of the surrounding environment. For firefighters, this could help locate a person during search and rescue, or help determine what fuel a fire is burning. Thermography is also frequently utilized in infrastructure to inspect cell towers, power lines, solar panels, and buildings for excess heating or heat loss. This application not only utilizes the aerial capabilities of the sUAS, but also expands our own visual senses to detect previously unseen radiation.

A second, and arguably more exciting, application is the research and development of UAS transport systems for manned use. At the end of 2017, companies in Dubai were testing both an autonomous quadcopter taxi service and personal quadcopters to outfit and augment police forces. These press releases, in conjunction with numerous YouTube videos of pilots manning their own aerial crafts, indicate sUAS technology is poised to bring modern transportation into the third dimension, relieving daily rush hour congestion and improving commutes across the board. This application is quite radical, and as such faces several hurdles. Policy, safety, reliability, and energy will be major factors to consider when realizing the incredible impact this technology will have. Additionally, it is now, in the technology’s youth, that it is most important for drone pilots and engineers to help lay a concrete foundation that will facilitate a smooth and timely integration of drones into our everyday lives.

At the intersection of these two applications lies an auspicious and pragmatic future for sUAS technology. Naturally, through incremental improvements, sUAS technology will grow more energy efficient, agile, and buoyant. In addition, sensing and detection technology is becoming more precise and compact and is increasingly being integrated with sUAS. With improved control algorithms, user feedback, and eventually machine learning, these machines can be designed and programmed as personal or municipal sentinels with enhanced and even customizable perception. For companies, this technology could partially or fully automate infrastructure inspections, search and rescue missions, shipping, high-rise maintenance, and GIS surveying, just to name a few. On an individual level, sUAS could be deployed daily for security, home and yard maintenance, and shopping, but could also be affordably enhanced for do-it-yourself thermal assessments, landscaping and gardening, or as a mobile toolbox and tool assistant. Advanced detection and mechanical capabilities will make sUAS the ultimate Swiss Army knife, with virtually no limit to the number and variety of commercial and consumer applications and adaptations.

The beauty of sUAS technology lies in the concert of harmonious design. Materials science, mechanical engineering, and electronic control systems each must be considered in the context of the other. In this way, designers may tap several different principles for system improvements and adaptations. As we experiment and explore a wider variety of applications, a growing body of knowledge will set precedence for the sensors and capabilities sUAS need to safely and effectively navigate the human world. When deployed in conjunction with mission trained pilots and application specific modifications and equipment, we enable these tools to augment our jobs, communities, and contributions to the world.

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Know a high school student interested in becoming certified to fly drones commercially? Tell them about our High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots.

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