A team of 8th grade students successfully breathed new life into a completely broken drone, refurbishing it so that it was able to fly for over 20 minutes in recent exhibition at the First Air and Tech Show at the Royal Cambodian Air Force’s headquarters.
The six students – all aged between 12 and 14 years old – are Rangsey Chanchesda; Meng Sovanmunint; Muny Kunthu; Ngeth Visot; Kosal Karuna; and Nann Sovansan.
Their chance to showcase their refurbished drone, and participate in national and international competitions, is the result of Preah Sisowath High School’s newly instituted New Generation School (NGS).
The NGS was established under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in 2015. Essentially acting as a ‘charter-school within a school’, the NGS is part of a wider ministry project initiated in 2014 to create ‘autonomous’ public schools with a mandate to innovate and improve educational quality.
Wearing glasses and the traditional blue and white school uniform embroidered with his full name, class, and school initial on the left chest, 12-year-old Chanchesda tells The Post that he first developed a curiosity about drones two years ago.
“In 2017, I had an idea to build a drone when I saw another person flying one. It was cool, I thought, so a friend and I began researching how to build it. But with only two of us, we postponed our idea,” he says.
It took Chanchesda a few months before he was able to sufficiently expand the team, at which point they made use of the school’s facilities to meet up after class to research the mechanics of drones. They also utilised several DIY Youtube videos on how to make and repair drones.
“In 2018, when I was studying in 8th grade, I resumed the plan and began working on our drone again when I found other students in my class that share the same interest and can sacrifice their leisure time for us to work together,” he says.
But acquiring knowledge on how to build a drone was just the first hurdle to overcome.
The next step was to raise money within the team to buy drone spare parts so that they can gain hands-on, practical experience with them.
Fellow team member Kunthu tells The Post: “Firstly, we had to plan to collect money to buy parts of the drone and build it as it was too much money to do it on our own."
“Luckily we had a friend who had broken old drone, so we bought his drone for $90. We then began inspecting the dead drone, studying each part and how it works.”
The team spent a total of over $200 – a relatively large sum for students in a public high school – over the course of a month repairing the drone, including testing and fixing deficiencies many times.
No easy task
As the team found out, repairing a drone is no easy task, but the money people entrusted them with made the young engineers even more determined to succeed in getting it back in the air.
“It’s very difficult to recover a drone in term of its appearance and its technical system. To make the drone body, we didn’t have modern equipment in order to cut shells and body parts,” Chanchesda recalls, adding that most of the jobs were with makeshift hand-held tools instead.
“We used a card cutter and sometimes razors in order to cut it by hand. A slight mistake would result in buying another spare part."
“For technical system, we failed many times because we were fixing the wires, motor and board in an incorrect way, causing the drone to fly in the wrong way as its propeller was working inconsistently."
“Sometimes it fell to the ground and we needed to start changing the broken parts again,” Chanchesda says.
The youngsters have now earned a level of fame on social media for their exploits, receiving widespread praise from the public for their ingenuity and drive.
“We didn’t create or invent a new drone. We just recycled and recovered an old drone to make it workable. But we received praise as we worked hard from morning to late evening while we were also busily studying,” Kunthu says humbly.
After their successful first project, the six students’ proud parents have encouraged them to continue creating and working on their next engineering project, a miniature light fighter jet.
“Now we’re in the process of learning how a small scale fighter jet works. It is made of carbon fibre to make it light and fly at high speeds, but we will use Styrofoam instead to make the body due to the limit of our budget,” Chanchesda says.
The students hope that after their successful story went viral on social media, students from other schools around the country will be motivated to pursue their dream in creating something too.
“We want the government and schools to make a special place for students who want to do research. We want the public and relevant bodies to support students who have creative ideas and dream of new inventions,” Chanchesda says, speaking on behalf of the team.
"I’ve come to love the young generation Cambodian people,” he says.