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Taking Autism to the Sky - Helicopter Drone Flying

  • Synopsis: Published: 2013-02-22 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-13) - Kids on the autism spectrum will build and fly a 6 propeller hexarotor helicopter autonomously and communicate with a base station for mapping and real time video capture - Paul Braun.

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Quote: "Taking Autism To The Sky is a project where kids on the autism spectrum will build and learn to fly a 6 propeller hexarotor helicopter."

Using Drones to Illustrate Perspective Taking For Kids On The Autism Spectrum.

Have you ever looked out the window of an airplane and marveled at the world below? We are excited to announce a project called "Taking Autism To The Sky" that will capture that feeling for kids on the autism spectrum through a live drone flying experience. The project will offer them a concrete example of perspective taking as they experience in real time what it's like to fly and look down upon the places they know so well like their playground, home or school. We are looking for your support.

Taking Autism To The Sky is a project where kids on the autism spectrum will build and learn to fly a 6 propeller hexarotor helicopter. This will be no ordinary helicopter like you buy in a toy store but rather one that has GPS, a high definition camera, and software that allows it to fly autonomously and communicate with a base station for mapping and real time video capture. They will produce a short film of the process as well as the aerial footage they capture and share it with the world.

As anyone that deals with autism spectrum disorders knows, perspective taking is difficult for people on the autism spectrum. Like most social skills, perspective taking is a highly nuanced skill and requires an ability to see the world through another person's eyes. In addition, people on the autism spectrum often desire predictability and learn through very concrete examples. These challenges make learning social skills like perspective taking very difficult. We are going to change that with this project.

Taking Autism To The Sky is inspired by Mitchell Braun.

Mitchell is a 10 year old boy from Middleton, WI and is on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed at the age of 2 and has undergone a great deal of therapy over the years. He is a polite, friendly boy that loves to build things. He can burn through paper, tape and other supplies in a hurry and he has made everything from an origami Yoda to time travel devices (too bad it didn't really work). His father, Paul Braun, is a landscape architect and geographer who works in the mapping and GIS industry. The aerial mapping industry is buzzing with discussion about the use of drones in the future (as regulations allow) for civilian, mapping applications. While reviewing and working with this technology, Braun realized that the imagery captured by these devices (often called unmanned aerial systems - UAS's or more commonly - drones) could help his son see the world from a different vantage point. In the summer of 2012, Braun took his son Mitchell, his other two boys Harrison and Torin, and his wife Krysia to a local radio control club event in the Madison area. There they saw numerous planes, helicopters and quad-rotors (4 propeller helicopter) flying and the boys had the opportunity to fly. They were enthralled. From there they launched the project and have been busy preparing.

"I'm so excited about the financial and personal support we've received for this project in the early days of fund raising," said Braun. "People from all over the world who have been touched by autism are contributing. However, we have a ways to go and are looking at even some stretch goals to help more kids or expand upon the project."

Beyond giving a group of kids on the autism spectrum concrete examples of perspective taking, the project offers the following ancillary benefits:

  1. Numerous opportunities to practice social skills through the kit construction process, practicing flying and the planning and execution of flight missions
  2. Development of basic employment skills such as soldering, programming and team work as well as exposure to a technology that will certainly grow in the years to come
  3. Development of video production skills
  4. An opportunity to showcase these kids amongst their peers using cool technology - they'll be stars!

To get this project "off the ground", Braun has launched Taking Autism To The Sky on KickStarter.

Once funded, this project will launch this spring and run through the fall of 2013. We ask that you view the project's profile on *KickStarter ( There is a short narrative and a 3 minute video describing the project. Offer feedback, help spread the word to others who may be interested, and if you are so inclined, provide financial support. Every dollar counts! With KickStarter, no pledges are paid out unless the targeted amount is reached so there is no risk in funding a project that doesn't get all the funds it needs to be successful. Fund raising has been highly successful to date and the project is very likely going to make its base target goal of $2,600. If the base target is achieved, we will add stretch goals to expand the number of kids that are impacted by this project, further enrich the experiences of the kids involved and spread the word even farther.

So check it out and get involved. You might get a new perspective too.

*Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others. Since their launch in 2009, over $450 million has been pledged by more than 3 million people, funding more than 35,000 creative projects.

Related Information:

  1. Autism Symptoms, Diagnosis, Facts and Treatment Information - Autism is a brain development disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction communication and restricted repetitive behavior.

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