By Mike Rosier
With a loud buzzing noise, the DJI Phantom 3 drone exploded skyward as every set of eyes on the playground watched.
Aiken County Schools technology director Andrew Cox was at the controls Monday afternoon and he had everyone’s attention – especially the two sets of nesting Purple Martin birds that scattered noisily at the sudden audio assault.
The drone soared straight up to around 400 feet – the Federal Aviation Administration’s limit for quadcopters such as the Phantom, according to Cox – becoming a small blip over Belvedere Elementary School in a silent hover.
“That thing is awesome!” one student said to a friend.
“It’s a very useful little device,” Cox said, noting that the drone can reach straight-line speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and possibly lift to heights of around a mile to a mile and a half. “We want our kids to be excited about technology.”
The visit wasn’t all fun and games. Even with all the “oohs” and “ahhs” heard from the students, the flight demonstration was just a bonus.
There was also a decidedly real-world application and some actual work for the drone to do.
Cox said the school district originally purchased the quadcopter – which sells for anywhere from $999 to $1,259 on Amazon – as a way to document the progress of ongoing renovations to existing district buildings and new construction efforts.
Belvedere Elementary is scheduled to receive a new roof this summer, while a new wing is to be built at North Augusta High School. A new Leavelle-McCampbell Middle School is planned for property on Bettis Academy Road in Graniteville.
“We are going to take some before and after pictures (of the BES roof) and use it to take pictures of the new Leavelle-McCampbell Middle School construction so we can see all the progress from the air,” Cox said. The drone is “pretty durable and really a pleasure to use.”
Cox said the new Leavelle-McCampbell Middle School is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017.
It will be the district’s first school construction project since Byrd Elementary was built in 2009, according to district officials.
“It’s designed as a tech-heavy school, and we’re very excited about the technology we will have available there,” Cox said.
Belvedere Elementary Principal Amy McClure was more than happy to have the quadcopter on hand for her students to buzz over.
While Cox hovered the craft over the students, who gathered on the basketball court to be photographed by the drone, McClure said several teachers will be implementing new technologies in the fall after being awarded tech-centered grants, and she wants her students to be informed.
“We want our students to know about the types of new technology out there on the horizon,” she said. “We’re trying to get more interest in technology.”