Parents fly into new STEM territory

stemEight years ago, New Hartford parents Bob and Lisa Payne, began coaching a rookie robotics team so their 10-year old son could get more involved in a STEM activity that he enjoyed.  At the time, very few people in the community were aware of competitive student robotics.

Back then, their team was one of only a handful of area groups competing in robotics. By the end of their first 2 seasons, their 5-member team had racked up several awards and competed in events at the National and World competition level.

With the help of Pace University and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the Paynes and their team established FIRST Tech Challenge locally so their aging team members could continue in robotics as they entered high school. Their team, the RoboSpartans, logged 7,500+ hours of community service over their 8 year run and was honored at 3 World Championships as top award finalists. The majority of previous team members are now in college, including the Payne’s son. The parent’s STEM journey could easily have ended as a success this spring.  Instead, it’s just taking off in a new direction.

In January, the Payne’s embarked on a new STEM path with drones. Some of their team members had dabbled with 3D printed quadcopters as off-season projects, but only recently had time for serious flying practice. After purchasing their first racing drone and winning a professional drone from the FedEx Innovation Challenge at the FIRST Championship in St. Louis, the team was well on its way with the equipment needed to start learning and participating in the technology.

A nudge from a long-time team sponsor encouraged the Payne’s to seek out those with interest in organizing STEM-based drone activities. Monthly meetings grew into the named group, CNY Drones.  So far, CNY Drones has a social media information hub, a well-rounded committee of volunteers and a planned County-endorsed, Drone Information Day on October 1 at the Griffiss International Airport.

“Local government and industry involvement in drone technology made getting a group started an exercise in connecting the dots,” says CNY Drones Administrator, Lisa Payne. “We’ve seen how robotics has exploded in areas of the country where there’s a local tie. With drones, there’s Oneida County leading the charge with a test site at Griffiss, area companies contributing to drone technology and a great workforce pipeline already started with drone camps and a new degree program at MVCC. Once we came together, there was immediate consensus on where we were heading. We’re taking the STEM aspects of drones – design, building, programming, flying and strategizing –  and creating a series of fun competitive activities for students right through college.”

The area’s first Drone Informational Day is set for October 1st inside Building 785 on Bomber Drive in Rome from 9am to Noon.  Oneida County is contributing the event space, a cavernous former nose hanger that’s been renovated to attract business tenants. The indoor space is equipped with protective netting to keep drones in a confined area and was used for Griffiss Institute and MVCC drone camps over the summer.

The Information Day will include demonstrations from area engineers and enthusiasts as well as interactive spaces with mini-drones and flight simulators. The event would not be possible without the help of representatives from Oneida County International Airport, the Griffiss Institute, AFRL, AX Enterprize, NUAIR Alliance, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, MVCC, Pemberton Raceworks, Harris Corp., Quanterion Solutions, Walt’s Hobby, the Carbone Auto Group and a number of local drone enthusiasts.

The October 1st event is free and open to the public. To volunteer at Drone Informational Day or for assistance in locating drone information to get started in the sport, contact Bob and Lisa Payne: CNYDrones@gmail.com.

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