Studio City 9th-Grader Gets Science Project Stuck in Palm Tree -- One Week Before State Fair

Best science project ever.
Best science project ever.
Kidovate via YouTube

Christian Stewart, a freshman at Harvard-Westlake Upper School in Studio City, came up with the best science project ever this year.

It's called "Low-Cost Autonomous Civilian Unmanned Aerial Systems," and it's essentially an affordable drone that your average dude would be able use for daily spying purposes. All at the touch of an iPhone remote!

So impressive was Stewart's work, that

it won both...

... first place in the L.A. County Science Fair's engineering category and a "special award" from the National Society of Professional Engineers.

So we're clear: This kid's cheap, lightweight UAS isn't your average volcano of a science project. It has serious potential for application in the real world. According to the Los Angeles Times, "a biologist even approached [Stewart] about ways to use the drone to quietly track wolves in the area."

Pretty great, right? But before he could become some JPL superstar, Stewart was set to show the thing at the California State Science Fair next Monday.

That is, until one stupid Studio City palm tree messed everything up last week.

During a test flight, Stewart's dad tells the Times, "I saw it make a perfect turn for the field. The only problem is, there was a palm tree there. I watched it fly straight into the top of that tree.... My heart just sank."

But don't worry. This story has a happy ending.

Tree trimmers told Jim they couldn't help. So Christian's mother, Jenny, took the only option they had left. She called the fire department.

To everyone's mild surprise, a truck arrived in minutes.

It ultimately took a second water truck, a break for another emergency call, a long ladder and three attempts with different nozzles to finally blast the glider from its perch.

Miraculously, the family said, the precious project landed upside down on the street unharmed.

We like how the Times got in that little jab at the L.A. City Fire Department's lagging response times. (Small pessimistic aside: Maybe this is why we can't have cheap civilian drones? Because they'd suck up the few remaining LAFD resources we have left with all their low-flying shenanigans?)

But anyway -- firefighters to the rescue! Stewart's mom compares them to "knights" who "came galloping up" to save her son's hopes and dreams with one heroic blast.

Now that that's over with, it's time to re-focus on the sheer awesomeness of Stewart's science project. We did some stalking on the Internet, and found he posted a video explaining the drone to YouTube last month:

And here's a more detailed explanation, via his official application for the California State Science Fair.

Main Paper

On another online forum, Stewart explains why flying the drone over real grass works better than astroturf -- hint: depth perception -- and offers other awesome tips about how to best use your iPhone remote during flight. [Update: Stewart tells us that "the article you were referencing was for a quadricopter drone project I worked on a couple years ago, which is actually being sold as a commercial toy by a french company 'Parrot AR-Drone.' Well then!]

Needless to say, this Studio City 9th grader has a real shot at the state (and maybe even national) title. Thanks, in no small part, to the creative first responders at Station 78.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]


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