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    Taking to the skies: Foxcroft students build drone

    Senior Gaby Panettiere, juniors Patia Fann and Jasmine McGreen and freshman Saylor Hart made up the team from Foxcroft who built the drone. Courtesy Photo

    Robots are taking over the skies Oct. 26.

    If they fly that is.

    Four students at Foxcroft School for girls in Middleburg will release their self-made drone above the school with other participants in a final flight demonstration.

    The launch is the culmination of their experience in the Da Vinci Challenge, a four-session-long workshop led by Kashmir-Robotics—the tech branch of humanitarian organization Kashmir World Foundation—that helps students create drones to fight poaching.

    It also aims to get girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math by presenting them with a problem they care about – in this case saving rhinoceroses from poaching in South Africa – and giving them the opportunity to work toward solutions.

    Foxcroft juniors Patia Fann and Jasmine McGreen, freshman Saylor Hart and senior Gaby Panettiere made up the school's team that took on the challenge.

    The girls first got involved when Dr. Maria Eagen, chair of Foxcroft's Science Department and an aerospace engineer, reached out to Fann.

    Eagen had gotten an email from KWF and their mission of using robotics and space to protect animals caught her eye as something the girls would be interested in.

    She told her about the workshop and asked her if she could help assemble a team.

    “It was a little overwhelming,” said McGreen. “We had no idea what we were going to do.”

    The actual workshop wasn't what any of the girls or Eagen expected. They were given the task and whatever help they needed, but the students were largely called to find solutions on their own.

    “There was no 'follow these instructions.' It was such a cool way to teach them because they did have to figure it out.” said Eagen. “One thing students do really well is follow directions, but they don't necessarily learn [that way].”

    They printed out the parts on the school's 3D printer, put them together and figured out the wiring on the drone through trial and error.

    They also learned programming after they installed the system on their computers that would eventually allow them to control their drone from the ground.

    Other participants in the workshop had built drones in similar events. The girls said they enjoyed learning from them and seeing what modifications they made to their own projects.

    It was one thing to build the machines. Flight Day is the next step.

    “I hope that we can fly it,” said Panettiere. “That's my No. 1 hope.”

    Eagen volunteered Foxcroft's ample acreage for the final flight demonstrations when she heard KWF was looking for a spot.

    Eagen and the girls already have a few ideas for how to use the drone after the launch is over.

    New Girl Running is a tradition at Foxcroft involving the rivalry between two teams at the school: the Foxes and the Hounds.

    In a homecoming-esque event, the teams compete for a cup that is supposed to help predict who will win in field hockey that year.

    The new girls line up on a big track and race to climb to the top of a gazebo and touch the weather vein. Whoever touches it first wins.

    They plan to send the drone up to get a bird's eye view of the event and hopefully take photos and video.

    With the sports season soon coming to an end at the school, Eagen said they hope to use the drone in the new robotics club, analyzing how it was made and how it can be improved.

    “It's a great opportunity to introduce robotics,” she said.

    Tracking the local deer population and observing flood patterns are two other options they're considering for research purposes.

    The launch is open to the public. Awards follow the launching, which also features teams from other local schools.

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