By Jasmin Barmore
On September 9, 2023
When 10-year-old Richard Kiel, of Southfield, crashed his drone within an hour of first launching it, sending shattered pieces of the robot flying, he realized he needed some training.
He got that opportunity Saturday along with more than 100 other young drone enthusiasts outside Michigan Central Station in Detroit.
“I decided, I guess I’ll learn how to use a drone,” said Kiel, who asked his dad to take him to the event as soon he heard of the opportunity to learn from professionals.
Youth Drone Demo Day was hosted by Michigan Central, Newlab and Code313, offering youths ages 7 to 17 a hands-on workshop meant to introduce them to the world of drones with mapping missions, a flight obstacle course and photogrammetry. All of the attendees got a chance to fly a drone and learn about safety before taking flight.
“Today is about getting them curious,” said Carolina Pluszczynski, COO of Michigan Central. “It’s about exposing them to drones, demystifying drones for parents and kids and just getting them excited.”
Pluszczynski said the drone world is on its way to becoming a $10 billion industry within the next 10 years. Technologies are advancing and it’s important to start thinking early on about how to bring youths into the market end educate them about the business, she said, especially when it comes to issues of privacy, photography and surveillance.
Bartel Welch, founder of Code 313, a nonprofit focused on equitable access to STEAM education, said gatherings like Saturday’s event open doors for youths to think about future career opportunities.
Welch said various stations were set up to educate youngsters on different professional fields they can explore.
“There are a ton of career options that exist in drones,” he said. “So every station teaches you about different career options that exist and what they’re useful for.”
At one station, children learned how to navigate a drone used for studying bodies of water. Welch said when water needs to be tested for bacteria, instead of using a boat or other equipment, a drone can fly above and drop a device to test the water.
Two other stations were set up to teach video and photo mechanics of a drone used in the entertainment industry, and mapping techniques used by agriculture, power and telephone companies.
Additionally, a station for drone synchronization was set up as an attraction so kids could watch drones fly together as they would in drone light shows.
No permits for drone flying were needed for the Youth day since all the drones stayed below 400 feet and were considered recreational, with no age restrictions. Pluszczynski said she wants to implement future programming for youths to get certified for more advanced drone usage.
“These kids are going to be the future founders,” she said. “They could be thinking of ideas now of what to do with this technology as it advances over the years.”
Kiel agreed that thinking about the future of drones is important, as he’s already planning where to fly his next drone, which he hopes his parents will buy him soon. He said he plans to fly in grassy areas clear of tall trees and obstacles to avoid another crash.
He would also love to be able to teach others how to fly drones. He took particular interest Saturday in the field of synchronized flying drones.
“It’s the tricks,” he said. “The tricks are the best part.”
This piece was republished from the Detroit Free Press.