IUPUI junior George Tipker grew up in the small town of Borden, Indiana, located just north of Louisville. In high school, he became fascinated with drones, unmanned aircraft that recently became widely available to the public in a more compact form, mainly for photography and videography use. But in Borden, where he graduated in a class of 56 students, there was no mentor or teacher who he could reach out to for information at the time, especially since public drone usage was very new.
Without an engineering program at his high school or the money to purchase a ready to fly drone, which typically cost $1,000 or more, Tipker turned to the internet to learn how to build a working drone from scratch. He was entirely self-taught, relying on Google and his own trial and error.
“Google is one of the world’s greatest resources, so that’s what I used,” Tipker said. “When I started, I spent about ten percent of my time actually building and 90 percent doing the research and learning.”
Building that first drone took about 100 hours and $200 from his initial idea to completion.
“I decided just to go for it. I thought that I might as well spend my money on something that I really like,” Tipker said. When talking about his first drone completion, he added “I was so anxious to go fly it so I would go fly it and I would crash it. The first one I made, the whole frame was built out of wood - cut up sticks in the garage and my brother would help me cut things out with the school’s laser cutter. I learned a lot and got the hang of it, moved up to aluminum parts. Now, we are using carbon fiber.”
Over four years later, Tipker has made close to ten to 12 drones personally, as well as many more built during his engineering courses and multiple improvements he has made to each one. Tipker is also sharing his knowledge with others, as a teaching assistant for three engineering classes as well as the treasurer for IUPUI’s American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronomics (AIAA), a new club that he recently helped to begin.
“The biggest thing is education,” Tipker said. “We are trying to get all of the misconceptions about drones and safety out of the way. If someone is interested in this, we want them to be safe about it so our hobbies and the things we like to do don’t get taken away.”
As for the future, Tipker isn’t sure on what he wants to pursue. He is looking into careers in engineering, but has a very optimistic outlook on the possibilities in commercial drone photography and videography. But for now, he is focusing on teaching and influencing others about drones and drone safety while getting his own degree.
“[If I could give advice to students looking to get into building drones], plan and go for it,” Tipker said. “If they can access resources such as the workshop that the AIAA is offering, it will help greatly. Getting help from someone who has overcome all of the small, little issues can make everything go much smoother.”
IUPUI students wanting to learn more about IUPUI’s AIAA organization can visit their Den page and find out about their upcoming drone workshop this semester.