Sunday, October 4, 2015

2015 Recap

Check out our video recap of the 2015 season.  Thanks to our supporters, volunteers, parents and participants.  We had a ton of fun!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How do we teach social skills?

Parents of children on the autism spectrum as well as educators and specialists involved with autism know that one of the most sought after therapy goals is social skills.  Autism is many things to many people but at its core, it is a communication and social disorder.  It impacts a person's awareness of social nuance as well as their ability to interact in socially acceptable and common ways.  Social skills curriculum have proliferated in recent years yet we are often looking for innovative ways to teach social skills.  One of the key tenants of TATTS is to use drone technology to convey those skills to our members.  It works.  Here's a few examples:

TEAMWORK: We emphasize teamwork in all that we do.  Visual queues reinforce supporting each other and team members fly in pairs (operator and visual observer).  One popular approach is to have the TATTS ground crew perform tasks that the drone operator is then in charge of capturing via video.  The operator uses the base station to see what they're capturing.  For example, the TATTS ground crew used their bodies to form the initials of the operator while volunteers hid them under umbrellas.  The "reveal" was often a delight for the drone operator!  Note: turn down your sound as all you'll hear are the props from the drone...


ENGAGEMENT: We use drone technology to engage team members.  Hands on helps many learn.  The technology is very enticing for these tech-savvy kids.   
Team Flying: Operator + Navigator
Maintenance Skills: Batteries, Props, & Visual Inspection

FORESHADOWING & REVIEW: We demonstrate what will happen in the field with the entire group, then we do it, then we circle back and review it again at the end.

TATTS Team Members See Themselves on TV Through the Drone
Practicing Using Goggles to See Through the Drone

VISUAL ORGANIZERS: Research has consistently shown that visual organizers help those on the spectrum understand and process sequences of events and manage time.  We use a variety of visual organizers to convey goals, our roles in the process and promoting positive social interaction.
Visual for Positive Things to Say to our Teammates

REINFORCEMENTS: We use numerous reinforcements to make our point, to keep the team members engaged and to simulate what it really means to be a pilot.  After all, pilots keep a log book to track all of their flights, weather conditions, etc.  Why shouldn't we?
Getting a Mechanics Sticker for Working on the Drone
Drone Operator in Training

PERSPECTIVE TAKING: We give them the opportunity to literally see the world from a different person's perspective.  When asked if the view in the goggles would change if they move their head, many of those involved would say yes. When in reality, it does not.  The view only changes if the drone changes.  We need to put our mind into the drone.

VIDEO MODELING: We take video modeling to a different height - literally.  Video modeling is often used to help illustrate a social skill in very concrete terms (e.g., greeting each other, standing in line, taking turns, etc.).  Research has shown that the videos don't have to be of themselves nor even of someone of the same race or gender in order to be effective.  Those with autism are often visual learners making video modeling very powerful.  We use the video we collect from the drone as a tool to watch the world below us, to evaluate what we see and to ask questions like "What is that person thinking?" or "What are they saying to each other?"
Thought Bubble Over Video

Friday, July 3, 2015

First Outing of 2015 Great Success

The TATTS volunteer team was excited to meet all of the TATTS team members, some of their siblings and their parents/guardians at our first outing for 2015.  We had 18 kids and young adults participating throughout the morning and afternoon sessions.  Thanks to Evangel Life Center for allowing us to utilize your gym to fly the mini and micro drones.  An indoor event was perfect to get us started especially given the rain that came down!

We began with a review of our goals and then did an ice breaker where the kids were asked to interview a team mate.  Sample questions were provided and volunteers helped facilitate.

Orientation - Review of Goals

Kids interviewing each other - practicing social skills
From there TATTS team members broke into 3 stations; a flight simulator station, a drone orientation station and a flying station in the gym.  When asked at the end what they liked best, TATTS team members self-reported that they liked them all - although simulator time and flying seemed to top the list.

TATTS team members on the flight simulator.  Look at that concentration!

Explaining the real-time video feed.  The kids LOVED it!
TATTS team members get flight books & stickers for tasks completed
Flying the mini-drone.  Volunteer, operator & observer

Parents noted significant engagement throughout the day
Volunteers were impressed with the piloting skills of TATTS team members
Lots of room to learn to fly
Drone station taught them about transmitters, GPS and other hardware
It's great to have boys & girls participating

Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Started

Next Saturday is our first outing for the summer of 2015.  17 kids from ages 7 - 18 split into two sessions.  We have woven in some new hardware this year including 2 micro drones from Hubsan and 2 mini drones from Dromida - all with cameras!  When you combine those with the DJI Phantom and F550 hexacopters, we have quite the fleet.  This will allow us to do FPV flying both indoors and out.  The mini drones even send their video via WiFi to smarthphone apps.  Very cool stuff. 

The kids will all get flight log books and receive stamps for time on the simulator, performing maintenance on the units and completing their indoor and outdoor flights.  Here's a picture of the 4 types of drones we're going to use.

Our outings have been designed to focus on social skills (e.g., turn taking, positive team work, empathy, perspective taking, etc.) as well as the technical aspects of flying drones and capturing video and pictures.  We can't wait to get into the field and do some flying!

Friday, May 1, 2015

2015 Programming Announced

Special thanks to the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin for their partnership and financial support in helping us expand our summer 2015 programming!  This year, TATTS is proud to announce two different sessions; a beginner and an intermediate.  This intermediate session allows us to keep advancing the skills of those who have participated before and the beginner session offers opportunities for new kids to get involved.  Space is limited to 8 kids/sessions so please register soon.

See here for more details!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Learning about the FAA

Although the focus of TATTS is on perspective taking and team building, you can't utilize technology such as UAS/drones without understanding aviation, pilot safety and the rules & regulations.  To that end, we are always weaving in those issues to our meetings and outings.

One such way to weave in a bit of a focus on aviation was during our family spring break to Washington DC.  We made a point when spending time on the National Mall to park near the FAA building, look at the UAV exhibit at the Air & Space Museum and see a few planes landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

We didn't go in to talk to the Jim Williams - Director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office - so we figured we'd pose by the sign instead

Mitchell checking out the AeroVironment RQ-14A used in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Saturday, February 28, 2015


One goal of TATTS is to develop employment skills amongst our team members.  To date we've emphasized team work/social skills, flight skills, and post-processing of the aerial data we collect into movies, photomosaics and even orthophotos.  Now that the FAA has officially released their Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) for commercial use of UAS, we have begun to review it from a perspective of TATTS.

This blog entry teases out some of the items within the NPRM and our thoughts on how it impacts us and our team members.  We offer these so that people involved with TATTS understand our perspective as well as as food for thought for others involved in the UAS community as they review the NPRM.

UAS Operator Certificate
Over the past several years there has been a good deal of conversation about the likelihood of the FAA requiring a private pilot's license to operate a UAS commercially.  That perspective was bolstered by the requirement for a private pilot's license within the several dozen 333 exemptions that have been granted to date.  Because of that, we were quite pleasantly surprised when the NPRM proposed that the UAS operator would simply need to pass an aeronautical knowledge test to obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating.  A professional UAS operator certification is a great opportunity for people on the autism spectrum as having one would make them marketable.

Passing an Aeronautical Knowledge Exam
We have concerns on the administration of an aeronautical knowledge test for UAS operator certification given the challenges that are sometimes present with people on the autism spectrum.  For example, people on the autism spectrum sometimes struggle with slower processing time and that may impact their performance on a timed test.  In addition, a heavy requirement on keyboarding skills may impact a person's ability to convey their thoughts and ideas.  Also, environmental factors such as background noise and the buzz of florescent lighting within a testing center may be difficult on a person on the autism spectrum.  Finally, testing centers often limit what an applicant can bring into the test area.  This may limit a person on the autism spectrum from wearing something such as headphones to block out background sound. We will make suggestions on this issue to the FAA in our NPRM comments.

No Flight School Required
In a similar manner to the pilot's license/operator certificate issue, we were reasonably confident that there would need to be a flight school or ground school requirement of some sort (be it for a pilot's license or some type of the UAS certificate).  That was a big concern as most of the TATTS team members require modifications to school curriculum given the impact of autism on how they learn.  We were glad to see that the NPRM suggests that there is no need for a flight school.  That being said, we are firm believers in understanding all aspects of safely operating a UAS and as such we are continuing to evolve what we teach TATTS team members to prepare them for the aeronautical knowledge exam should they choose to obtain one.

Corn Maze Flight From Last Fall

Minimum Age of 17 Years To Obtain a UAS Operator Certificate
TATTS members are school aged kids and young adults.  We've been concerned about what the FAA would require as a minimum age for people to obtain a UAS operator's certificate.  Throughout our 2 years in existence, we have been regularly impressed with the flight skills of many of our team members - many of which are well below the age of 17.  Also, we know that the minimum age necessary to apply for an airman certificate to operate a glider or a balloon is 16 years old.  Based on the skills we've observed in some TATTS team members, as well as existing precedent around gliders and balloons, we believe that dropping the age to 16 is acceptable. 

Of course, the presence of good flight skills amongst our team members is not always present.  In those cases, however, there are other roles in the UAS industry for them including visual observer, equipment mechanic, or image analyst. 

No Airworthiness Certificate Required
We appreciate the FAA's perspective that airworthiness certification shouldn't be required, predominantly because their safety concerns would be mitigated by the other provisions in the proposed rule such as maintaining the UAS in a safe condition via inspection prior to each flight.  We believe inspection and equipment maintenance are key skills of TATTS members and are an area where people on the autism spectrum would excel given their propensity for rigor and attention to detail.  We also would be concerned if a requirement for an airworthiness certification would only be achievable by large companies that build UAS hardware.  The DIY/maker space aspect to the UAS market is where great achievements are occurring.  We want and need the ability to build and fly our own units as that's where a great deal of education occurs as well as market advancements.

Leave Hobbyists Alone
All of our flying to date is under the guise of recreational flying pursuant to the FAA's 1981 advisory circular (AC) 91-57.  We are pleased to see that the NPRM doesn't impose new rules upon hobbyists. That being said, we do teach marketable skills and we want to expand our focus to offer "for fee" services to people and organizations in our community (who wouldn't want to hire these kids?!) but our focus is recreational flying. 

Institute a Micro UAS Designation (under 4.4 pounds)
The NPRM proposes a microUAS category that would impose different regulations for the commercial use of aircraft under 4.4 pounds (2 kg).  This is excellent news for TATTS as we tend to fly very small units that would meet those weight requirements.  As proposed, the microUAS designation would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, and would only require self-certification of aeronautical knowledge as opposed to taking a written test.  Eliminating the need for TATTS members to take an aeronautical knowledge exam is good news.  It does, however, limit where flying can occur (no ability to fly within 5 miles of an airport and only in class G airspace).

We are in the process of reviewing UAS America Fund LLC's petition for regulating microUAS.  Incidentally, the FAA is considering this petition as commentary to the NPRM so we are reviewing this to provide additional feedback.

Flying over People Not Involved In the Operation
As noted in the item above, the microUAS designation allows for flying over anyone - whether they're involved in the operation or not - only in class G airspace, and >5 miles from airports.  Allowing us to fly any microUAS over anyone is great news for TATTS as the majority of the flying we do tends to have someone around who is not involved with the operation such as pedestrians on sidewalks, people in their yards, and hikers/bike riders.  Also, we tend to only fly UAS that would fit the microUAS weight designation.

On the other hand, the proposed regular UAS designation (<55 pounds) allows for flying over those not involved with the operation only as long as they're in a covered structure.   We understand the concern of flying a large UAS over large gatherings of people such as protests, sporting events and music concerts.  However, our concern is that many of the applications TATTS is interested in will have people in the area that are not involved with the operation and will also occur in airspace beyond Class G, and/or requires autonomous flight (for photogrammetry and mapping).  Examples include:
  1. Construction sites in urban or suburban areas
  2. Inspections of infrastructure such as bridges, buildings or roads
  3. Mapping of transportation or environmental features
These locations have cars, trains and/or boats passing through, pedestrians moving about or other human activity.  We'd like the FAA to inject the ability to fly microUAS over anyone into the <55 pound UAS designation.  This would allow a certified operator to fly microUAS for commercial purposes over people not involved in an operation and do it autonomously, in class A, B, C or D airspace, within 5 miles of an airport, and up to 500 feet.  We need the flexibilty to fly microUAS over anyone yet we're willing to apply all the other <55 pound issues such as certification.

Lots more to think about in the NPRM and our work at TATTS.  We hope this helps you think about some of the issues.  Please share with others should you think it's warranted and provide us comments. Happy flying!