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Game of drones

The dearth of British schoolchildren engaging in STEM subjects continues to be an issue but Raytheon UK’s Quadcopter Challenge is bucking the trend.

Image of the inner working of a drone being adjusted.

To bring to life the technical innovations that make drones important to the future of defence, Raytheon UK invited four schools in Essex to compete in its annual Quadcopter Challenge. Held in association with Essex County Council, year nine and year ten students began work on building a fully functional quadcopter. “Using identical kits designed by Raytheon UK engineers, two teams from each school created a unique quadcopter by tweaking the flight characteristics and customising various components, such as the frame design, undercarriage and canopy,” says Andy Mitchell, Lead Engineer for Raytheon UK’s Quadcopter Challenge and a Raytheon UK STEM Ambassador.

Flying skills get challenged

Having built and learnt to fly the aircraft, the eight teams then participated in a set of intricate flying challenges as part of the Quadcopter Challenge finale in November, where their speed, agility and accuracy were tested as they competed for cash prizes. Raytheon UK STEM ambassadors, such as Andy, provided management and technical support to the teams throughout the challenge. And, to keep the lessons current, they drew from their diverse professional backgrounds in engineering, information technology, project management, finance, commercial and business development. “Our remit was to attend weekly after-school clubs to provide project guidance and lessons involving the science, technology and future of unmanned air systems. These lessons included STEM subjects at the forefront of aerospace technology, and are highly relevant for future engineers,” Andy says. The company also organised STEM assemblies and visits at which students were able to talk to Raytheon UK engineers and STEM ambassadors for advice and inspiration. For instance, several of the ambassadors visited Tabor Academy in Braintree to demonstrate cutting-edge technologies such as the LiDAR from a Google Autonomous Car and Oculus Rift Virtual Reality.

Gaining an insight into the reality of engineering

“I think this kind of engagement and mentoring is absolutely vital to dispel some of the misconceptions regarding careers in engineering,” says Nathan Bainbridge, Raytheon UK’s Director of Human Resources. “Indeed, how many of us might have made different career choices had we been able to benefit from such guidance? Our STEM initiatives are crucial to the long-term pipeline of resources in our company and industry,” continues Raytheon UK CEO Richard Daniel. “Industry at all levels, academia and Government must work collaboratively to create the right environment for the UK to prosper. “Recruiting staff with strong STEM skills will therefore help underpin the UK’s ability to compete and achieve growth in many major sectors like manufacturing, construction and engineering. “We therefore want to inspire the next generation to study STEM and encourage students into STEM-related careers with the aim of growing the talent pipeline at a national and regional level.” In response to the tremendous success of the Quadcopter Challenge, the company intends to roll out the competition across the UK this year.