Royal Flying Doctor Service uses drones to train school kids

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Posted March 20, 2019 07:13:30

Training future pilots with drones Video: Training future pilots with drones (ABC News) Related Story: Drone to help rescuers after test at notorious WA fishing spot Related Story: Could drones be used to deliver aid to disaster zones? Related Story: Fire fighters trial unmanned drones in emergencies Map: Rockhampton 4700

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has opened its Rockhampton hangar to school girls learning to become drone pilots for the day.

Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) specialists, She Maps, run drone workshops with school groups around Australia, but this is the first time they have teamed up with the RFDS.

Queensland Head of Clinical Governance, Trent Dean, said he hoped the new partnership would encourage more girls to pursue a future in aviation.

Man stands in front of plane Photo: Royal Flying Doctor Service Queensland Head of Clinical Governance Trent Dean at the Rockhampton RFDS base. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

"Hopefully with the relationship with She Maps and more broadly with the drone world, RFDS will attract a new workforce going forward," he said.

"Having kids at this age, where they're the most impressionable, and having their own opportunity to demonstrate those skill sets is really unique.

"We're aiming to have a few clinic days where we go out to rural and remote areas, and that's where the kids will also have the opportunity in the far-west regions, to be involved in these sorts of activities as well."

She Maps education director Karen Joyce said the aim of the partnership was to diversify the science workforce by showing girls that there was more to science than men in lab coats.

"My long-term goal is, instead of people always visualising a scientist as being someone who works with a white lab coat and test tubes, that they actually think that science is a little bit more broad and more diverse than that," Dr Joyce said.

"Obviously that's not something you necessarily get out of a two-hour program, but at least to open your eyes to realise that drones, geospatial science, and this sort of technology, is a career path that they could pursue."

Woman flies drone in front of plane. Photo: She Maps educational director Dr Karen Joyce teaches school children how to fly and code drones at the Rockhampton Royal Flying Doctor Service base. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

Next generation pilots

Dr Joyce said the RFDS would support the next generation of STEM workers.

"The RFDS is an organisation that is interested in diversity; they want to push it in their workforce," she said.

"They're also really interested in innovation and using drones and in this case for creating environmental maps.

"It's something that captures the next generation as they're coming through and hopefully they might even think of working for the RFDS at some point in the future."

RFDS Rockhampton base and clinical operations manager Carolyn Overy said she hoped the workshop broadened the students' minds.

"I hope they just see the opportunities that are available to them in the medical area and with the drones and what that means for their future, and how things will change and progress as they go along in life," she said.

"I think, for girls of this generation, there are so many opportunities out there for them and nothing is out of limits, and I think this just shows what is available for them."

Making sure regional kids don't miss out

Ms Overy said it was particularly important for regional kids to be given these types of opportunities.

"I think accessibility for people who live outside of the city areas is something that's limited," she said.

"Every opportunity we get, we want to show these kids that there's no disadvantage to living in beautiful places in the country."

Man stands in front of plane Photo: She Maps managing director Paul Mead at the Rockhampton Royal Flying Doctor base to teach kids how to safely fly a drone. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

She Maps managing director Paul Mead said there was a strong demand in regional Australia.

"We've got a big demand in regional areas, but it's the travel to get to the regional areas that makes it not so financially viable," he said.

"I think that the regional areas get forgotten a lot.

"We decided to remove that transport [cost], so we're doing a road trip and we turn up and deliver our programs for the same price as what we deliver them for in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne.

"That really helps to give our regional students the same opportunities as what our metro students get."

Inequality in the STEM workforce

Dr Joyce said the RFDS was a diverse and innovative company, but there was more work to be done in the general STEM workforce.

"About 6 per cent of aviation pilots in Australia are female and about 1 per cent of drone pilots are female," she said.

"So really, really small numbers in terms of actually flying … from my particular discipline, it's about 20 per cent, so that's in geospatial, making maps, working with drones and satellites, that sort of thing.

"Overall in STEM it's a little bit higher than 20 per cent for STEM careers and that's particularly low for the engineering side and a little bit higher for other parts of science."

School students stand in front of plane Photo: Byfield State School and Keppel Sands State School students participate in the She Maps program at the Rockhampton Royal Flying Doctor Service base. (Supplied: Royal Flying Doctor Service)

Young kids have a go

Year five Byfield State School student Charlotte Horstman said she was a bit scared of flying drones at first.

"I learnt how to fly drones and the rules for safety," she said.

"I felt scared, but also happy at the same time as well … I was happy that I did it."

Year five Keppel Sands State School student Gwendlyn Nugent said she wanted to fly a drone again.

"I was a bit nervous … I felt happy that I did it finally, because [at first] I never did it right," she said.

"I'd like to do it again, it would give me lots more experience."

Topics: science-and-technology, education, environment, environmental-technology, schools, community-and-society, regional, access-to-education, environment-education, rockhampton-4700, keppel-sands-4702, byfield-4703, qld

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