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Youth Discover Drones In Engineering Design Challenge


Drones may soon be a bigger part of our daily lives. The U.S. government expects there will be 600,000 commercial drones a year from now. It's grappling with how to regulate them. NPR's Art Silverman discovered that a younger generation is pretty comfortable with the idea.

ART SILVERMAN, BYLINE: There was a real buzz in the air last week at the National Press Club here in Washington, D.C.


SILVERMAN: I'm not talking about a buzz as metaphor here. The buzz was real. It came from drones flying all around at a 4-H National Youth Science Day.

JENNIFER SIRANGELO: We have 200 kids doing drone discovery. They're learning the science in a hands-on way.

SILVERMAN: Jennifer Sirangelo is president of the National 4-H.

SIRANGELO: Drone Discovery engineering challenge has different levels of activities, from unmanned flight to the coding behind remote sensing.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, welcome back, everyone. If you can turn your attention up here...

SILVERMAN: Sirangelo was in a sea of enthusiastic kids throwing gliders, handling quad copters and using surveillance cameras to look at targets on the ballroom floor which showed imaginary crops. This is the 4-H after all, the organization that got its start more than a hundred years ago as a club for farm kids. Elementary school student John Forester of Maryland explains what he's doing.

JOHN FORESTER: If the camera shows the spots, they represent the weeds. So then our camera would've seen where the weeds are and where to pull.

SILVERMAN: Some kids are already familiar with drones. Ten-year-old Emma Brown is from Maryland.

EMMA BROWN: At my dad's house, I have a really big drone, and it has a camera on it. And when my dad goes over to the farm, I get the drone out and fly it over there and spy on him and see what he's doing.


SILVERMAN: Drones swoop and hover across the ballroom. Adults may be torn about the role of drones in our lives, but the kids here seem to accept drones as part of their lives, both now for gathering data and photography and in the future - maybe pizza delivery. Well, they have some ideas of their own.

RAISA LEES: My name is Raisa Lees, and I'm from Maryland right here.

SILVERMAN: What is it about drones that seems interesting to you?

RAISA: They'll probably help us see maybe even other planets.

JOSH RENKO: I'm Josh Renko (ph), and I'm 11. Drones are probably going to take over the world.

JOE YOUNG: My name is Joe Young (ph). Just hearing about the drones and what they could do, I think it's going to make people a little lazy.

LYDIA ESKELAND: Lydia Eskeland (ph) - I'm from northern Virginia. I am 15 years old. I mean I think a lot of good can come out of them, but it's kind of scary to think about at the same time that, like, 10 years from now, like, everything could be run by drones.

SILVERMAN: 4-H kids contemplating a future filled with drones at the 4-H Drone Discovery event here in Washington, D.C. Art Silverman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Art Silverman has been with NPR since 1978. He came to NPR after working for six years at a daily newspaper in Claremont, New Hampshire.