Army-backed drone project shifts to virtual reality at Wichita State

Teams of students are developing different components of drone technology

Campus closures and social distancing have forced one military-backed, drone-building project deeper into virtual reality than the college students involved had originally anticipated.

FirePoint, an engineering partnership between Wichita State University and the U.S. Army, was set to launch a collaborative STEM project in which teams of college students would develop new drone technology at a series of in-person and virtual workshops over the next year.

Now, of course, all meetings are virtual as each team works on a separate component of the drone, says Steve Cyrus, FirePoint’s manager of technology collaborations.

FirePoint will adjust further by shipping virtual headsets to the students so they can collaborate in Dassault Systemes’ 3DExperience platform.

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“Folks who are successful in these types of situations are the ones who see an opportunity to do something that’s unique,” Cyrus says. “The virtual reality portion is something we wouldn’t otherwise have pushed as strongly into.”

The project’s first session, scheduled to take place in Wichita in mid-March, occurred online on April 2.

The FirePoint STEM program aims to introduce budding engineers to the high-tech future of work.
The FirePoint STEM program aims to introduce budding engineers to the high-tech future of work.

A silver lining is that the 3D platform will allow students in different parts of the country to work together as avatars in the virtual world.

And this, Cyrus says, is a form of collaboration students will likely encounter in their professional lives when working with engineers across the globe.

“We’re being forced to grapple with what this will look like as far as the future of work,” Cyrus says. “So much of what students need to learn isn’t really going to be found in the classroom.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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