Introduction: Aerial Group Picture With a Drone
General Information: Multicopters have recently spiked in their usage in both the hobbyist world and the professional world. Everyone is starting to use these "drones" to do tasks that may otherwise be more costly or unpractical. Taking advantage of the rise of this popular new device, Newman Smith High School put their Quadcopter to the test and took a picture of all the seniors from the Class of 2014.
Introduction: On May 28th, 2014, Newman Smith High School Seniors took their first ever Senior Class Picture from a Drone. The students stood in the shape of "2014."
The operation was directly supported by the School Administration, Science & Engineering Pathway, Student Leadership Class, Counseling, Student Exec, School Security, Construction Class, Athletics Department and many teachers and janitors.
The entire operation including the initial idea, planning, organizing, communicating, and logistics was done by one student with a team of operational critical students and teachers.
Inspiration: As a part of the North Texas Drone User Group which is governed by the international Drone User Group Network, I was inspired to do some good with the school's quadcopter before my senior year ended. The school's quadcopter had an Autopilot system, telemetry, GPS, and lots of materials at any DIYer's disposal.
This Instructable serves to show you the groundwork behind the setup of the whole operation. Detailed specs for the specific parts used are not available. The last step is an overview of Drone Technology in the DFW area located in Texas.
Take a look at the short video to see the entire operation from the bird's eye view.
Step 1: Planning & Safety Overview
Obviously, anything with fast spinning blades flying up in the air with lots of people on the ground could provide quite a hazard if anything were to go wrong. To minimize these potential risks, lots of planning was required.
Operation Requirements:The base requirements for the operation were as follows:
1. Move all 400+ seniors from the school into the parking lot and have them stand in formation for 5 minutes in order to take the pictures.
2. Have a working, reliable multicopter capable of carrying a camera with a live display, operating on loiter mode, stay in the air for the duration of the photo, have access to manual controls in case of an emergency.
3. Have a team of students and teachers that can direct people and act in case of an emergency.
4. Gain support of school administration to carry out various tasks required for the operation.
The PDF provides the operation overview and the various roles assigned for each individual person or team.
**More details on timing, logistics, and other tidbits.
The reason that this plan was feasible was because the principal of the school was convinced that the Science & Engineering Pathway would greatly benefit from having drone capabilities and provided the program with money and other support to build the machine.
We planned for the whole operation to occur on "Senior Walk Day," a day where seniors are recognized for their achievements both academically and physically. During this day, seniors are released early to go off campus to eat lunch and come back for the awards ceremony. We coordinated with school administration to allow seniors to be released 15 minutes earlier to take the picture outside.
School administration, counseling, security, leadership class, Science & Engineering, teachers,and multiple other organizations were involved with the operation.
Step 2: Equipment
Materials used for the project are as follows:
Quadcopter with GoPro Hero 3
The Quadcopter was a combination of 3D Robotic's Quadc C Frame Kit along with Turnigy Talon Quadcopter V2.0 with Octo Plates. On board electronics are APM 2.5, 3DR GPS, & 3DR Telemetry. The transmitter & receiver used are the Turnigy 9x Transmitter & 9 ch. Receiver. The GoPro Hero 3 was connected to a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone through the free GoPro app that can be found in the app store.
The reason that the quadcopter was a hybrid of both Jeffmazter406's parts and Newman Smith HS parts was because the 3DR version had some technical difficulties which caused it to flop upside down and break all its propellers during a flight a weekend prior to the operation.
Laptop computer with Mission Planner
A portable computer or tablet is required for the operation. Using the interface included with the Quadcopter's Autopilot system requires download of Mission Planner. It is a free software.
Sidewalk Chalk, Duct Tape, Measuring Tape, & Sharpie
These items are necessary for drawing out the outline of "2014." More will be explained in the "Formation" step.
Megaphone & 2 Way Radio
Communicating with 400+ People is not a small task. A large megaphone is required. The two way radio served as the link between the tower and the pilot, flight safety officer, and communications chief/camera operator.
Large Field with Optional Tower
A large field is required to fit lots of people. Thankfully, we had a band marching field so the tick marks on the ground already represented pre-determined distances. The Tower was the director's platform for Marching Band so we used that to house some teachers who could communicate with the ground on coordinating the students.
**Equipment cost: The total estimated equipment cost for the quadcopter system plus the supplies used is estimated to be around $3500 dollars. Most of the supplies were already on hand so it was not that expensive. I borrowed the GoPro from a friend.
Step 3: Formation
To get 400+ Seniors to stand in the formation of "2014" was quite a challenge. In theory, if calculus was applied, we could figure out how many people would fit in each number assuming that each person took up 2 square feet of space...however time constraints forced us to use another option.
Instead of using calculus, we figured out the approximate ratio of the numbers in line form. Then, we assumed that we could thicken the line by 3 fold and then determined how large the numbers had to be to fit around 400 people.
The results are as follows: The marching field lines are 5 yards across each blue hash and approximately 15 yards the other way. (please refer to a band marching grid for specs). With the approximate areas in mind, we estimated that there would be at least twice the amount of space needed to fit 400 people in these rectangles. And assuming the area of people needed to fill the numbers was half the space of the total area of the rectangles, we could fit everyone in formation. (Thanks to Anna, a teammate from the Solar Plane Instructable for providing the specs of the field and the area estimations)
Marking the Field
With the help of the Leadership Class, we went out to the field with multiple rolls of duct tape and sharpies. The day before, I had measured out the rectangles and marked the ground with sharpie. We took the duct tape, we stretched it across the the field in roughly straight lines to have the numbers down. Chalk was not done until the day of Senior Walk because it rained the during the weekend. Duct Tape was our expensive "alternative" but it served a great purpose in making straight lines. Spray Paint would have been a possible option, but permanent marking would have been too much of a pain to remove.
Step 4: Quadcopter Build
Story about the Quadcopter: Imagine frantically trying to build a quadcopter during the week before finals so that you could take an aerial picture of your senior class...now that, my friends, is very stressful, especially since the parts were not all compatible. A handy supply of coat hangers, zip ties, velcro, and pliers was required. The bullet connectors were different sizes so I had to crimp some so that they could insure a tight fit and not lose contact or fall out mid-flight.
There is not much to say on how to build your quadcopter. These things are so popular now days, that you could to be honest, just order one online or follow a parts list. This is one parts list by the North Texas Drone User Group & Dallas Maker Space.
The main thing was to mount to GoPro on the bottom of the quadcopter in a temporary manner. I applied duct tape to the underside of the quadcopter and mounted the gopro's stick mount underneath. This is not ideal, but it worked.
For the GoPros, consult the GoPro website and online forums to figure out how you want to set it up and configure it to work with your phone or tablet.
Step 5: Operation Day & Results/Thoughts
Overview of Operations: Operation day went as expected. The cones already marked off the area so no cars were parked there. Early in the morning, we chalked around the numbers to make them wider. The Operation Dialogue can be found here (also in the PDF file attached to this Instructable). Everything was as smooth as anyone could have hoped for. The sky was clear and all so sunny (despite thunderstorms and 50% chance rain predicted for that day), and even the shadow of the water tower moved out of the way just in time.
Results:The results from the Operation were quite impressive. For one, not a singled hair was lost that day from a quadcopter propeller. That would have incurred massive insurance claims/law suits, etc., something we did not think of before hand. Thankfully, the fire department and police station are right next door to the school. The fire dept. would save the injured people as the as police would bring me to jail for reckless endangerment of my fellow classmates...just kidding. But there is a huge risk in performing this operation and all of this need to be taken into consideration.
Safety: We never flew on top of the students because that has always been a definite no-no. The quadcopter was not proven to be airworthy through many hours of testing. I had two other 15 minute flight times down before we did this for real. I was always ready to take over the controls if the pilot was not able to. The Flight Safety Officer monitored the telemetry the whole time. She was looking at battery percentage, altitude, and other factors that could potentially call for an emergency landing. Personnel involved monitored the location of the quadcopter at all times and could minimize injuries if the quadcopter did come down.
The pictures were later printed and donated to the school for fundraising and the picture file was shared online for students to have. So this was not a paid operation, we did not fly above 350 feet (400 is the advisory flight level by the FAA), and rules and protocols were followed.
More Pictures from the Aerial Picture in this link.
Lessons Learned: Having extra parts for your quadcopter is definitely a good things. Lacking spare parts, we had to take apart the school’s and join it with my own personal copter that was also half broken. This ultimately provided the best combination through it’s wide arms and gigantic base plate along with the autopilot system, but having spare parts for the original quadcopter would have been nice. It could have also spared me the tears when taking apart my hard work at the end because I won’t be a student there in fall of 2014.
Step 6: Extras (pictures & Information)
Picture Set Descriptions
1. The first set of pictures are of the school quadcopter, which is the 3DR Quad C kit. These pictures include us flying it around in the football field and testing out its capabilities.
2. The second set of pictures with all the kids is of 8th-12th grade Students learning about Unmanned Aerial Systems from the North Texas Drone User Group. The North Texas Drone User Group, which is a part of the Drone User Group Network, We see an important role for community groups like ours in helping to educate the public (in this case, staring with young adults) and promote a culture of safe and respectful flight practices.
3. The third set of pictures is from a NTDUG meeting at Thunder Birds RC field. Everyone was testing and showing their equipment to each other.
4. The last set of pictures is of the first ever Search & Rescue Competition involving Drones in the United States. The FAA did not shut down the competition. We held it in a very far away field away from any airports and other human beings. Each team had an allocated amount of time to search for human body parts and other artifacts to help initiate a surgical ground rescue operation. CBS News came and covered the event, however, they put a pretty negative twist to the story. I hope this instructable clears up the inaccuracies that may result from Media and irresponsible people why buy these machines. The NTDUG and hobbyists intend to keep what has been here for the past 3 decades and maintain the peaceful relationship between our equipment and the public.