Edison Academy Gets MIT Grant To Develop Drone For Farmers

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Left-col-academyEDISON — Students at the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison who are developing a drone for agricultural use have received a boost from an MIT program that seeks to challenge youngsters to invent solutions to contemporary problems.

A grant of up to $10,000 has been awarded to the Edison Academy team that is working on an unmanned crop-spraying drone that would be affordable for use on small farms. It was one of 15 such grants to U.S. high schools announced Oct. 16 as part of the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Program.

“The education provided at our vocational-technical schools, including our two academies, is a source of great pride for my freeholder colleagues and me,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios. “So it goes without saying that we are thrilled to hear that the imagination and innovation displayed by our students and their teacher, Enzo Paterno, has placed them among the nation’s best and brightest. It’s not a surprise. It’s a testament to their hard work and to the quality education they are receiving.”

“As the freeholder liaison to the vocational-technical schools and as the chair of the Business Development and Education Committee, this honor has special meaning for me,” said Freeholder Charles E. Tomaro. “Our students’ invention, a drone crop-spraying device, obviously speaks to their technological know-how. But, more importantly, it will help many farmers right here in Middlesex County. Keeping the county’s agricultural heritage alive and helping our small businesses thrive by introducing new technology illustrate how our students are helping their community. Bravo.”

Paterno said his students’ invention is an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle that will “efficiently and accurately” spray crops on small farms. The drone will be about 5 feet across with 16-inch rotors. It will use a combination of GPS and computerized visual tracking with a camera.

“The inventions that this year’s teams have undertaken focus heavily on improving the safety and well-being of those in their communities,” said Leigh Estabrooks, invention education officer for the Lemelson-MIT Program. “I feel optimistic that the students are seeing issues affecting others around them, and responding quickly with original and useful ideas to technically solve problems.”

Paterno, who teaches electrical and computer engineering, began the InvenTeam application process last spring and attended training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help prepare the final proposal. A panel of judges composed of educators, researchers, staff and alumni of MIT, as well as representatives of the industry and former Lemelson-MIT award winners, chose the winners.

The Edison Academy team has enlisted a number of collaborators to mentor the students, including Dr. John Grande, director of the Rutgers Snyder Research and Extension Farm, who
specializes in pesticides; Xerxes Vania, an expert on drones for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems who has worked on the Predator military drone; Edison Academy parent James Carr, who coaches the SayWatt robotics team; Dr. Senthil Kumar, an expert on computer vision for Bell Labs; Tom Reed, an aerial crop-spraying expert for Teejet Technologies; Dr. Nenad Bozinovic, an optical engineer for Nistica Inc.; Tony Grace, senior director of engineering for Nistica; Dr. Sunil K. Gupta, senior manager of new product development for IEEE, the father of a team member, and Thomas McNellis, senior Manager at Lockheed Martin, a member of an Edison Academy advisory board.

“This award is an extremely prestigious one,” said Dr. Linda Russo, principal. “Our students were selected as one of the 15 finalists from across the nation. When they first came to me with the grant information, I thought, what a great opportunity for my students to express themselves and share their creativity.

“As the process progressed and the product design was finalized, I was so proud of their enthusiasm and dedication to their invention. I congratulate these students as well as their advisor, Mr. Enzo Paterno, on a job well done! I can’t wait to see the final product!”

The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first county vocational school district in the nation, has seven schools on five campuses, in East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge. The Edison Academy was named a National Blue Ribbon School in September in recognition of its high-achieving students. Last year, the MCVTS Perth Amboy Campus was named a National Blue Ribbon School for showing significant improvement in student achievement.


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