5 Best Programmable Drones for STEM Education

One of the ways that educators capture the interests of students is to use programmable drones. But while there are countless numbers of drones in the market, there are only a few that are programmable and can be used for STEM education.

Hello everyone! My name is Lavelle and I am a licensed drone pilot and a self-diagnosed nerd. My love for drones is directly tied to my love for the STEM disciplines. For the sake of dating myself, I was the president of my class’s CET (computer engineering technology) organization way back in the 80s.

In this article, I will discuss what makes a programmable drone suitable for STEM education, as well as share my recommendations for the best programmable models. I will also go over a few frequently asked questions.

Key Takeaways

  • When looking for a good programmable drone for STEM education, consider models with multiple programming languages such as the Parrot Mambo or the RoboLink CoDrone.
  • Educators should consider programmable drones that have fun, intelligent features to get the student’s attention.
  • The DIY drones such as the Remoking and the Sky Viper are excellent teaching tools, allowing students to build the drone from scratch.
What is STEM education?

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is an educational discipline that covers these subjects.

Yes, DJI and Parrot, among other manufacturers, have some high-end, expensive programmable drones that are used in agriculture, oceanography, and other such fields.

There are various programmable languages used with drones. Some include C, C++, Python, Javascript, and many others.

What Makes The Best Programmable Drone for STEM Education

As you consider programmable drones, it’s important to understand how these drones correlate to STEM learning.

  • Research Use (Science): From a research perspective, programmable drones help students to understand how these drones can assist in gathering data to further study certain issues. When looking for a good programmable drone, look for ones that offer data retrieval.
  • Software Development (Technology): Programmable drones are premised on the use of software to program drones. Consider drones that allow the students to have an opportunity to learn various programming languages such as Python or Javascript.
  • Physics and Data Collection (Engineering): The drones include aerodynamics and data retrieval, allowing students the opportunity to understand how physics factors into the design and how data collection contributes to engineering design. Look for drones that allow students to build the wings on the drones so that they can correlate wing design to aerodynamics.
  • Problem Solving and Measurements (Math): Great drones for STEM education allow students to delve into problems with things such as wind draft and angle measurement, both of which are mathematical indications. Look for drones that give students real-time scenarios to engage in the problem-solving process while delving into the measurements found in the drone movements.

The 5 Best Programmable Drones for STEM Education

Here is my list of the best programmable drones that you can use to enhance and support STEM education.

1. Ryze Tech Tello Mini Drone (Best Overall)

  • Programming Software: The Scratch App
  • Flight Time: 13-minutes
  • Camera: 5 MP resolution
  • Speed: Up to 18 mph

When it comes to programmable drones, the Ryze Tech Tello Mini is one of the best on the market. It is a product from the DJI brand and is backed by its industry-leading reputation.

This mini drone comes with an excellent image processor and produces some very nice photos and videos. It also has some nice applications to enhance your image quality. The camera system features a 5 MP image resolution and produces high-definition 720p videos.

There is also a nice 13-minute flight time on this drone, which is excellent for this category of drones. The Tello has two antennas that allow your video transmission to be very stable and it has an advanced battery.

Perhaps its most important feature is the programming piece of this drone. It is supported by the Scratch programming applications. With this app, students can program the drone with commands that drive the movement of the drone. Students can also drag coding blocks on smart devices and further develop their programming skills by playing programming games on their devices.

My biggest concern with this drone is that the manufacturer suggests that it not be used indoors. In many instances, STEM educators use drones indoors with students.

My Verdict: This is by far the best programmable drone on this list. It is a respected brand and it is durable and dependable.

2. Robolink CoDrone Mini Drone (Best Mini)

  • Programming Software: Blocky and Python
  • Flight Time: 5-minutes
  • Camera: No onboard camera
  • Speed: Up to 20 mph

The next drone on my list is the RoboLink CoDrone Mini. This drone offers a fun experience for students. It’s a programmable drone that incorporates coding and robotics. 

The CoDrone Mini is programmed using the Blockly application. This app allows you to create flying patterns, control the lights on the drone, and perform flips. It provides a great introduction to basic coding.

One of the things that I like about this mini drone is that it uses radio frequency to connect to the remote control. This feature allows you to use multiple type controllers and also makes the connection stronger. STEM students can also develop codes to make the drone zip around, flash different colors, do flips, and obtain sensor readings.

It does not have a long flight time, with only 5 minutes of air time, which is perhaps its biggest drawback. There is also no onboard camera. It does, however, have an impressive flight speed of up to 20 mph, which is often appealing to students.

My Verdict: This is a good drone for learning and experimenting with programming. Students will love having the ability to program the drone to do flips. I’m not a fan of the short flying time and I always prefer an onboard camera.

3. Parrot Mambo Fly Drone (Best Software)

  • Programming Software: Tynker, Blockly, Python, Javascript
  • Flight Time: 9-minutes
  • Camera: No onboard camera
  • Speed: Up to 18 mph

Next up is the Parrot Mambo Fly drone. It’s a nice drone that is easy and safe to fly for students. It allows students to learn to code with the use of the Tynker and Blockly apps and also works with Python and Javascript programming languages.

The flight time is respectable on this drone, giving 9 minutes of flight time. It does not have an onboard camera. It does have some powerful sensors that contribute to a nice, stable flight. The auto-pilot feature is also impressive.

Students tend to enjoy the speed of this drone since it can fly up to 18 mph. There is also a cut-out system on the drone that allows the motors to shut off upon any impact to the drone.

The only drawback of this drone is the body design. While it does have a safety feature in case of impact, the body design is somewhat flimsy and causes questions about how it withstands any kind of impact.

My Verdict: The programming features are nice on this drone, especially given its compatibility with programming languages. It’s a stable drone and has nice safety features. The drawbacks here are the lack of a camera and the relatively short flight time.

4. Sky Viper E1700 (Best Speed)

  • Programming Software: Drone Builder Viper Flight 5
  • Flight Time: 8-minutes
  • Camera: High Definition
  • Speed: Up to 25 mph

The number four drone on my list is the Sky Viper E1700. This is a stunt-builder drone that students love. With this drone, students can build it from scratch and see the fruits of their labor upon completion.

It’s a fairly high-performing drone also. As a stunt drone, students can build the drone part by part. It comes pre-programmed with the ViperFlight 5 application and hosts an impressive firmware platform.

One of the more impressive features of this drone is its speed. It can fly up to 25 mph, which again, gives students quite a thrill.

Unfortunately, this drone is lack safety features. With its relatively high top speed of 25 mph, there are no safety features in place in case of a crash.

My Verdict: This is another good drone for STEM students to learn coding and have fun at the same time. It does have a basic camera onboard but only has an 8-minute flight time. The coding piece is nice with the compatible app.

5. Remoking RC605 Drone (Best Stability)

  • Programming Software: Not applicable
  • Flight Time: 5-minutes
  • Camera: No onboard camera
  • Speed: Up to 10 mph

The last drone on my list is the Remoking RC605 drone. This is a very stable drone that has a remarkable 6-axis gyro quad-rotorcraft design. It also has some nice features including the one-button takeoff and landing capability. 

The RC605 is a nice teaching drone that allows students to build the drone while developing the STEM disciplines. It comes with several building options that give more than one choice for the design.

In addition to the teaching element of this drone, it has a few nice intelligent features including the Headless mode and the one-button landing and takeoff capability. The features allow students to have a little fun with the drone while using it to learn STEM aspects.

The biggest drawback here is the short 5-minute flight time. It also does not have an onboard camera. The flying speed is pretty good, at up to 10 mph.

My Verdict: This is a good drone for creative expression for students. It has a short flight time and no camera, so it falls to the bottom of my list but it is still a good option for students.

Final Thoughts

Using programmable drones to enhance the educational journey of STEM students is a monumental task. Incorporating STEM is a complex undertaking and programmable drones help to simplify the learning process. The hardware and software combinations in drones inspire students.

Each of the models I’ve listed offers excellent STEM educational learning features. The DIY models allow one to build a drone from scratch and originate the programming. In addition to the drones on this list, there are some other options including the Top Race DIY Drone and the MakeBlock AirBlock Drone. Both offer nice STEM-related building modules.

Are you a STEM educator who uses programmable drones? Or are you a STEM student who’s used programmable drones? I’d love to hear your opinion about the drones I listed above. Feel free to leave your comments and questions below and I will respond to you as soon as possible.

Until next time, happy learning and happy flying!

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