- Build an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) - in our case a hexarotor
- Fly it
- Make movies about our experience
Phase One: Building the Hexarotor
This included several, 2 hour sessions focused on getting organized, soldering components, screwing all the pieces together, and testing that it all works. We took it slowly and double checked our work.
Phase Two: Flying
We completed many different outings (we called them missions) to fly the hexarotor. First and foremost were test flights. We did some of those without all the kids to ensure that what we'd built actually worked. Many people we've spoken to prior to starting the project warned us that we needed to take our time here to ensure that it works. The last thing we want is to be tinkering with details while a group of kids are lingering around getting bored!
Once we knew it worked, we headed to rural locations in the Madison area to fly. Those included local farms, wetland preserves, large parks and off-the-beaten-trail locations where we are consistent with FAA policy and where there is no concern about bothering other people, safety and privacy issues.
The primary goal of these missions has been two-fold; 1) get the kids to experience the act of flight through both actually flying the hex as well as the First-Person-Video (FPV) that the hex will collect from the sky, and 2) collect good footage that will be part of the film.
We also talked a lot with the kids about what they experienced and how it felt to fly. We helped them compare their experiences with others.
Each child had a role during missions including pilot, co-pilot, safety crew, and equipment crew. We wanted everyone to be involved all the time. We weren't always successful as there were times when kids were bored. In the future, more than one UAS would be good so that we can keep more kids engaged at all times.
Phase Three: Make Movies
As we compiled footage of the kids throughout the project, we edited them to short clips and had them produce their own short films. The kids then utilized footage, still photos and open-source music to build their own mini-movies. We're also building a feature film/documentary of the project that will be provided to all the kids and our lead financial contributors. The level of involvement by kids in this phase depended on their interest level. We've seen kids on the autism spectrum make some beautiful films and self-expressions.
Long Term Plans
Our long term plans are to evaluate the viability of spawning a business from this project that could employ these kids as they grow up. Curent FAA regulations don't allow a for profit company to utilize this technology in a commerical manner but opportunities will develop as the market matures. We want to generate opportunities where people on the autism spectrum can be the CEO of a company and we think this is one technology where it can happen.