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The City Journals

AAI to compete in world drone champions, thanks to local Girl Scout

May 02, 2022 08:21PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Two American Academy of Innovation teams will be competing in the world drone championships May 10-12, thanks to one high school girl.

AAI senior Mikayli Cannon saw an opportunity for many of her robotics teammates to continue learning and sharpening their skills by learning how to build, program and fly drones.  When Cannon checked to determine their interest level, they were enthusiastic for a new challenge despite being busy every weekend this winter with robotics competitions.

They also wanted a chance to compete in a Remote Aerial Drone Competition. However, when Cannon learned there wasn’t a competition in Utah, she decided to organize one and set the date for March 19.

Cannon also reached out to other peers at school who weren’t on the robotics team but wanted to learn about drones, and they joined the team.

Her first step was to write and apply for an $8,000 STEM Action Center grant, which she used to purchase multiple drones as well as help support the school's robotics teams. Because of supply chain and shipping issues, the do-it-yourself drone kits she ordered with the funds didn’t arrive until late January.  

In February, she and her classmates built two drones, and using their robotics and engineering experience, programmed them. 

“We’ve been building the drone now,” Cannon said on Feb. 18. “Before that we were getting to learn how drones work and the rules of the game.”

The RADC contest, sponsored by the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation, is similar to her robotics team’s FIRST Tech Challenge where there are three skills assessments. An autonomous, or preprogrammed, part of the contest is first. Then, teams create alliances of two teams.Four drones from the alliance fly around the field to score as many points as possible in a three-minute match. The drones use the rotor downdraft to move balls to corners and into floor goals as well as setting the drone down in a landing zone to gain points; after five rounds, the team with the most points, wins.

Once AAI’s drones were programmed, Cannon and a couple team members who had some experience flying taught the other classmates, knowing they just had weeks to learn before the competition.

“It was fun to see them have their maiden voyage today,” she said.

Soon after, AAI split its members in half to fly their drones, Titanium Pagasi and Titanium Pagasi II.

The students had to “work to bring each other up,” their adviser Danielle Cannon said. “They have moved around within the teams to find the strongest combinations. Mikayli gave them a good starting point and then, they moved around to fill the right position for each person. They are two teams, but one family.”

Teamwork, critical thinking, communication, project management and student development are some of the goals and skills of the organization’s competition.

“I’ve learned some new skills, but I’ve also been applying the skills I’ve learned through FTC,” Mikayli Cannon said. “We are a STEM school, and we have a robotics team and other cool things. I wanted to add to the fun opportunities the school already has.”

Cannon also reached out to the Davis Discovery STEM Club in Roy, Utah, and sold them some of the drone kits, then helped with building and programming the drones.

“I messaged back and forth with their director and helped answer questions,” she said after learning they were interested in learning about drones.

For Cannon, the experience doesn’t stop there. She is using this as a base for her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts of the USA, which relies upon high school-age Girl Scouts developing and carrying out sustainable solutions to issues that impact their community and world.

“I did a lot of research and I realized this is an opportunity for others to learn. There will always be more teams who are going to want to learn and join and even here at my school, we have younger students on the team who are going to take it over,” she said.

Cannon, who has relied upon her leadership experience she’s gained while growing up in Girl Scouts, plans to help teach the skills to her multi-level Girl Scout troop as well as several other FIRST Tech teams who want to start next year.

“She’s pushing the program forward and helping them raise money so they can purchase drones,” said her school adviser, who also happens to be her mother.

Cannon said that her background in Girl Scouts and her passion for STEM has helped her be in this unique position.

“I’ve been taking the leadership skills that I first learned in Girl Scouts to every meeting I run and helping my teams and other teams to further learn,” she said about the project that already has stretched well beyond 100 volunteer hours.

The school adviser, said the meetings are organized so each student knows what they’re doing.

“Mikayli knows how to bring the strengths of each team member and their personalities to work together. She has helped with running troop and service unit meetings and with all her knowledge in programming, robotics and STEM, it has helped her be able to bring this together and give others these opportunities,” Danielle Cannon said.

The teenager also is preparing for her drone pilot license, which she wants to get after the competition.

With her license, she can fly drones to take aerial photos for businesses and organizations, which will pay her for her services.  It’s a way to help fund her college education.

Cannon also recently received the Utah State Board of Education’s Career and Technical Education Scholarship and Tuition Award that will pay $1,000 for her tuition for her first year at Salt Lake Community College. She also is learning more about SLCC’s drone program so she can further her skills.

But first, her attention is on the REC Foundation Aerial Drones Competition World Championships. The school’s two teams and a team from Davis Discovery STEM Club qualified and now they will be packing their bags to be amongst the 67 teams competing at worlds in Dallas.