Advertisement
  1. News

Drones can stop school shooters, inventor says. Students work to prove it

Students at Manatee Technical College in Bradenton hope to develop a drone that can fend off active shooters in schools. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Students at Manatee Technical College in Bradenton hope to develop a drone that can fend off active shooters in schools. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Apr. 27, 2018

TAMPA — When the military put out the call for help disarming bombs left by a retreating Islamic State, a Sarasota inventor developed and delivered a drone that paired heavy lifting with artificial intelligence.

Another idea came to the inventor, Skip Parish, when he learned about the 17 people gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

"There has to be a better way to protect students than having a gun on a gun," said Parish, who has worked with militaries and companies around the world on drone technology.

He reached out for help from Manatee Technical College in Bradenton, a school with a reputation for innovation. If he brought his technology to the school, could the students there apply their advanced tools and skills to create a quick and safe way of detecting, identifying and disrupting a potential shooter?

The goal: produce a small drone to fly inside a building that can receive alerts through a special software and approach a subject instantly.

The software uses artificial intelligence to identify images like a gun. Facial recognition software could be added to identify a potential shooter. It can even be outfitted with speakers to distract a shooter.

The drone would be placed in a central location, affording it a wide field of vision. It would instantly alert authorities to potential trouble so they could launch and control the device.

The concept received an enthusiastic reception from Gil Burlew, the school's advanced manufacturing and production instructor. The way events unfolded in Parkland, Burlew said, with confusion about who or where the shooter was, reveals problems with the current approach to active shooters.

"I don't believe the answer to anything is more guns in schools," Burlew said. "I'm a big guy, 6'3'', 250 pounds. But after 40 years of teaching, I can't imagine giving teachers a gun. Why? That teacher will never be the same if he had to use the weapon. And what the students would see is not something they would ever forget."

A few months back, Parish attended the school's advisory council meeting and was invited for a closer look at Burlew's instructional program.

"Our students are pretty high-tech," Burlew said, with students from both high school and college. "Skip came in, saw drones in my classroom, and started putting two and two together. He said he was working on things for the military and there was no reason why we can't be doing some of those things here."

Manatee County school officials liked the idea, as well.

"One of the key focuses of our engineering and technology programs is to use emerging technology to solve real world problems," said Doug Wagner, executive director of adult, career and technical education for the Manatee County School District.

The drone project is in its early stages. The goal, said school district spokesman Mike Barber, is to plan, design, create, and build a product that can be manufactured commercially. Students, he said, have been studying the physics of force, lift, and payload.

The program has purchased two DJI brand drones for practice and instruction, Barber said. Students are working on their prototype with Parish and the video piloting company Lumenier.

The project is pushing the edge in a number of ways.

A student in the program already has been promised a job with Lumenier after graduation, Barber said.

And a demonstration set up to illustrate this story proved real enough to cause concern in the Manatee school district, where seven students have been arrested recently for making threats to schools.

A student carried a toy rifle through a hallway at Manatee Technical College on Thursday as a drone flew nearby and camera shutters clicked.

"In light of our experiences," Barber said, "in the wake of Parkland, to have video and photos of a person who looks like a student, going though school with what looks to be a real AR-15, really gives us scary concerns."

The drone project, with an estimated budget of about $5,000, has ambitious goals and students aim to have something to show before the end of the school year in June.

"By engaging in this project," Wagner said, "our students hope to make a contribution to school safety, not only here but across the country."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Pasco County's Fivay High School has added new security measures to keep the peace on campus. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
    A student falsified a threat against the school. That led Pasco deputies to discover a teacher brought a gun to campus.
  2. Pinellas high school students march alongside Lynda Blackmon Lowery, center, during Tuesday's Unity Walk in Clearwater to commemorate the iconic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. “Use your power," Lowery told the students. "Use your voice.” [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
    With chants of "mighty, mighty children” they summoned lessons from the civil rights era in search of inspiration for the future.
  3. Rep. Bobby DuBose says he hopes 2020 will be the year the Florida Legislature limits the use of restraint and seclusion on students with special needs who grow violent. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘I pray to God this year will be the year,’ sponsor Rep. Bobby DuBose says.
  4. Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden (left) and Public Defender for the 13th Judicial Circuit Julianne Holt received the Tampa Tiger Bay Club's fourth annual Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday. [ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Times]
    Public Defender Julianne Holt and Tax Collector Doug Belden were awarded the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa’s fourth annual Lifetime Achievement Award Monday.
  5. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what he believed to be a former African American cemetery next to the parking lot of FrankCrum Staffing, 100 S Missouri Ave. in Clearwater. Now, it appears the cemetery may have been on an adjacent lot where the building stands. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    Archaeologists were scanning a vacant lot for bodies until an old city record pointed them to an adjacent property.
  6. Authorities say these six suspects are responsible for at least two dozen home burglaries in unincorporated Hillsborough and Pasco counties and the city of Tampa. Top row, from left: Arleys Bonet Mustelier; Alain Rodriguez Roig and Ernesto Hinojosa. Bottom row, from left: Yarisley Cuervo Reyes; Yuniel Hinojosa-Gallardo and Yasmani Hernandez Rodriguez. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    Investigators said they served a search warrant at one of the suspect’s homes and it was like a jewelry store in stolen stuff.
  7. The U.S. Geological Survey says a powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica on Tuesday. [Google] [Foto: Cortesía]
    Witnesses reported strong shaking but there was no immediate word of casualties or heavy damage.
  8. Kayakers enjoy a morning paddle down the Weeki Wachee Springs River at Weeki Wachee State Park. [Michele Miller]
  9. Chris Murray with the Downtowner ride service drops off a passenger in the Channelside area. The popular free service is now in jeopardy. [Times (2017)]
    Money for the service runs out March 31. Members of the Hillsborough transit agency board are reluctant to pay for it.
  10. The statue of John Harvard sits in Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged Charles Lieber, chair of the department of chemistry and chemical biology, with lying to officials about his involvement with a recruitment program run by the Chinese government. Prosecutors said he received tens of thousands of dollars through the program. [CHARLES KRUPA  |  Associated Press]
    Charles Lieber was arrested in his campus office Tuesday, accused of lying about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents program.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement