PITSCO Idea Shop opens registration for student drone competition

Jordan Meier
Morning Sun
Members of the PSU and PITSCO staff learn to fly the drone students will use during the PITSCO Idea Shop drone competition.

PITTSBURG, Kan. — It’s no secret that drones will most likely be the way of the future. From agriculture and construction to real estate and package delivery, drones have slowly been making their way into everyday life for some time, and the PITSCO Idea Shop’s new competition embraces this emerging technology.  

This week registration opened for the first-ever drone competition hosted by the PITSCO Idea Shop — located on Block22 in Pittsburg and a collaborative “maker center” established in a partnership between Pittsburg State University and PITSCO Education.  

“The initial idea is that this [The Idea Shop] would be like a gym membership,” Vice President of Education at Pitsco Matt Frankenbery said. “But right in the middle as we were getting ready to launch it, Covid hit so we quickly flipped gears and said, ‘we really did this because of the students in the community, and so let's create a couple of student events during this covid time.’’  

And thus, the first-ever PITSCO Idea Shop drone competition was born.  

The competition is open to any student in middle school, high school or college. Participants will compete in teams of two or three to complete the objective of the challenge. Using drones on loan from PITSCO and $200 in complimentary supplies given to each team, the students will work in the weeks leading up to competition, which is in April, to create a drone mission and obstacles, in a 10-foot by 20-foot netted drone arena. 

“What we’re finding is that there aren’t very many people being hired as a drone pilot, they’re actually getting the certification to fly a drone as a part of their regular job,” Frankenbery said. “It’s an add-on skill, and so we want the students to come in here and learn how to collaborate as a team, work well together, solve problems, but also learn more about drones and the technology.” 

In addition to creating the obstacles, students will also have to learn how to fly the drone, create a team name and logo, and determine a theme for their obstacles, which they can work on at the Idea Shop during their reserved practice time.  

Bill Holden, PITSCO development specialist and staff member at the Idea Shop, said students will have access to all the cool technology the Idea Shop has on hand including 3D printers, crickets, large scale printers and other such tools.  

“We’re not really sure what all the kids will use it for, but that’s the great thing,” Holden said. “The kids’ imaginations will run wild. That’s what we want them to do.”  

Currently, six teams have signed up to compete including teams from St. Mary’s Colgan, the Catholic school in Pittsburg.  

“I’m excited about it,” St. Mary’s Colgan Principal Wes Streeter said. “Stuff like this, you know, STEM activities allow kids to be those critical thinkers that we need, and it creates a great base for innovators of our future.”  

 PSU Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato said the competition has the capacity for 20 to 25 teams and interested parties have until March 17 to register.  

“We really want to impress on people to sign up soon,” he said. “One reason that we’re capping the number of teams, as you can imagine, is so we can control social distancing and exposure. Our area schools have done such an exceptional job of keeping students safe in this last year, and we certainly don’t want to be the ones to screw that up.”  

The competition will be held “tournament style” and the teams will not only be judged on their “drone mission and field elements” but also on their drone piloting skills as they navigate the other teams' courses. One of PITSCO’s resident drone experts and part of the company's marketing team, Katlie Brynds, said students will be using the Tello EDU drone which PITSCO currently sells.  

“It’s an educational drone,” Brynds said. “It’s usually targeted more towards middle school students, but it's mostly just an introductory drone.”  

A prize for the winners of the competition is yet to be determined, but Frankenbery said this event, in addition to exposing students to new technology, is just a great opportunity for them to learn how to collaborate on a team and problem-solve.  

“We want students to have the opportunity to practice effective collaboration when they’re problem solving together,” he said. “So, this drone event is a perfect example of that.”  

Jordan Meier is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. She can be reached at jmeier@morningsun.net