Kids have already been out of school, in a sense, for months since the summer started. Summer camp seems fun, but many parents still want their kids staying at home. And while parents may want to reduce their child’s screen time, it seems all but inevitable when there are few places to go outdoors. It’s the perfect trifecta for a virtual drone summer camp.
The SPIRE Academy and the Museum of Future Sports launched a Drone Racing Summer Bootcamp this summer. While it’s primarily a sleep-away camp at Spire Academy’s training facility near Lake Erie in Geneva, Ohio, there’s a virtual version too. It promises to be a week of not just FPV racing, but also a time to acquire new skills including engineering, programming bench work, PR, social media management and career counseling.
And as it turns out, their Drone Racing Summer Bootcamp is not the only virtual drone summer camp you can join this year.
Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus also announced an online drone summer camp called the UAS Virtual Academy. The program, which is for kids age 14 to 17, runs from June 22-26. The program is intended to teach teens foundational aviation skills, flight maneuvers, safety procedures, and photography and videography basics. That program costs just $49 (though it’s BYO drone). As part of thee course, you’ll spend some time watching online lessons, and you’ll also fly your drone anywhere convenient — whether it’s your backyard or a real AMA field. Kansas State University Polytechnic said the program is designed to prepare teens “to transition to a collegiate UAS degree program if desired.” Other colleges, like Mercer County Community College are also offering their own college prep summer camps involving drones.
In Michigan, the Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (MiSTEM) is offering a series of virtual Summer Air & Space camps. Each week has multiple course offerings targeted at different age groups, spanning third grade through high school. The camps delve into a variety of STEM subjects, but the camp for the week of July 20 is focused entirely on drone racing.
And the Challenger Learning Center, founded by the families of the astronauts tragically lost during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle mission, is also offering a virtual drone camp. Campers will receive a drone, which they’ll learn how to put together (including learn how to code). They typically host annual, in-person programs but pivoted to virtual camps since coronavirus.
Some of the camps require you to provide your own drone, while others will ship one for you. Some, like the SPIRE camp, focus on racing drones. Others use drones that have already been lauded as excellent STEM teaching tools, like the Tello drone which was made in partnership with DJI.
All those summer camps could provide a leg up for students looking to prepare for college — and ultimately get a job in tech. Engineer is the most sought after job in the drone industry. And for students who prove to be strong pilots, there’s hope for a lucrative career: some professional drone racers for groups like the Drone Racing League (DRL) reportedly have contracts of up to $100,000.
Still, some parents are skeptical of virtual camps. They question whether their kids are getting too much screen time already, if they’re as engaging and useful as in-person camps, and if they’re worth the cost.
But with drones, where the premise is inherently centered around autonomy (ahem, no human touch), a virtual summer camp may make sense — coronavirus disrupting summer plans or not.
Drone summer camp options in 2020
SPIRE Drone Racing
- Operated by: SPIRE Academy and the Museum of Future Sports
- Registration deadline: Ongoing through summer
- How to sign up: Visit Spire’s Drone Racing webpage
- Cost: $1,100 for just the in-person day camp; $1,395 for the in-person camp including boarding; $899 for the online version
- For ages: Grades 9 through 12
- Drone included? Yes
UAS Virtual Academy
- Operated by: Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus
- Registration deadline: June 15 at noon
- How to sign up: Visit polytechnic.k-state.edu/uas-academy
- Cost: $49 for a weeklong virtual course
- For ages: 14 to 17
- Drone included? No
Michigan Air and Space Virtual Summer Camps
- Operated by: The Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (MiSTEM)
- Registration deadline: June 15
- How to sign up: See their flyer
- Cost: $249, with some scholarships available
- For ages: Grades 3-12
- Drone included? Partial (drone controller included)
Virtual Drone Camp
- Operated by: Challenger Learning Center of St. Louis
- Registration deadline: July 10
- How to sign up: Register on Eventbrite
- Cost: $195
- For ages: 12+
- Drone included? Yes