When it comes to some of the most exciting applications of engineering technology today, drones are all the rage – not only are they being harnessed by industry at a rapid rate, drones are also becoming a catalyst for engaging young minds in all that engineering has to offer.
The quickly decreasing price of drone technology, coupled with the rapid proliferation of potential applications, has led to high demand for skilled drone pilots across many industries, according to Global Drone Solutions CEO Mahmood Hussein.
“The drone industry is changing at a rapid rate, not only has it become mainstream, but it has also become highly advanced,” he said.
“Drones now allow companies to complete tasks much more quickly and cost effectively than ever before, and, in many instances, with a much higher level of safety. There’s no longer a need to sell drone technology to industry. Everyone knows the benefits.”
But, while companies of all varieties are rushing in to take advantage of these new engineering marvels, Hussein said drone technology is delivering another benefit for the future of engineering: namely, it’s creating a lot of hype, and young people are paying attention.
“With drone technology gaining more exposure, we’ve noticed there is also a lot of excitement in the younger generation. It has become a way to get school students excited about STEM,” he said.
Established in 2016, Global Drone Solutions (GDS) helps schools and businesses design and implement fit-for-purpose drone-compliant training and certification. Aside from offering drone pilot training pathways, the company also offers Cert III level training to high school students via its schools program.
“We get a lot of students coming through our program that are very, very keen on learning about and utilising drone technology,” he said.
“In one of our recent training sessions, the students got to fly the drones through an obstacle course, using virtual reality goggles to simulate the experience of being in a cockpit. It was very exciting. It was so exciting, in fact, that we had trouble getting the students to give back the drones!
“From an educational standpoint, it’s very clear to see that learning about drone technology is increasing students’ interest in engineering career pathways. They see the potential of the technology and they want to be part of the action.”
Gateway to everything engineering
The shortage of skilled practitioners is becoming one of the most pressing challenges within every discipline of engineering in Australia, and primary and secondary schools education is a crucial factor in attracting students into STEM.
Hussein, who was recently awarded the 2022 Western Australia Pearcey Entrepreneur of the Year Award, said drones have become the new go-karts – an exciting and highly engaging tool for teaching students the principles behind a vast array of different STEM fields.
“When I was young, we designed and built go-karts as a means of learning about engineering principles. Drone training is very similar: it offers a gateway into discussing and learning about everything engineering,” he said.
“Whether it’s math, physics or science, there are an endless variety of ways to use drones as a tool for learning. I’ve had feedback from teachers at some of the schools who’ve said they could spend days just discussing the batteries, let alone all the other components of the technology.”
While the drone pilot schools program certainly gives students the opportunity to fly drones, Hussein said it also has a strong theory component, exposing young people to a range of technical insight that’s applicable in many different STEM professions.
“The theory component of the training covers everything from aerodynamics to mechanical, electrical and technological engineering, as well as meteorology,” he said.
“Drones really are the ideal technology for learning about STEM.”
Too cool for school
While drone technology has been gaining traction in industry for a few years now, Hussein said it is only just getting to the point of becoming mainstream, but in very futuristic and trendsetting ways.
“Drones have gained a lot of visibility within many different applications – from shark detection, to asset condition assessments, rescue missions, cinematographic footage and even take-out pizza delivery. Drones are the future and everyone’s accepted that they’re here to stay,” he said.
And this mainstream acceptance of chic applications is good news for the future of engineering, Hussein said.
“It’s generating momentum in burgeoning fields, including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, coding and 5G communication, and it’s exposing young minds to the potential the technology has to offer and, in turn, bolstering the skill sets of the future,” he said.
While GDS offers free advice and lesson plans for primary schools, last year the company’s schools program trained 200 high school-aged students, delivering the Certificate III in Aviation (Remote Pilot), and there are currently 40 schools in Western Australia engaged in the training program.
But Hussein said GDS is expanding training to other high schools and colleges as demand accelerates.
“The future of our training programs really excites me, especially from a STEM education perspective. So while we are training drone pilots, which are increasingly needed in industry, we are also supporting young people to pursue careers in engineering,” he said.
“We certainly provide a service: we give schools access to training, help them deliver that training, and then we verify it. That’s the official role that we play.
“But it’s great to see our programs having a broader impact, creating a snowball effect. Not long ago, no-one knew much about drones. But now when we go to careers expos, all the school kids make a bee-line for our stall.
“They want to know more, they want to take a turn, because who doesn’t like playing with drones?”