A Fleet of Interactive Model Planes Lets Students Explore the Principles of Flight


Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI)


North America

Recently, a major aerospace company came to Ideum with a fascinating design challenge: Could we help them bolster their educational outreach efforts with a fun and engaging hands-on experience that would teach students about the principles of flight? The solution was to develop a set of portable interactive model planes with movable control surfaces that can be activated by teachers and students. These unique computer-controlled models were designed to provide a powerful catalyst for conversations about aeronautics and physics.

Developing this robust set of ten interactive model planes required industrial and electronics design and an extensive period of prototyping and testing. We experimented with a range of servo motors, electronics, and 3D printed prototypes before coming up with the ultimate solution for ease of use and reliability.

The final design includes a 3D printed plane and handle that fits into an airport diorama protected by a wooden frame. Each plane has six servo motors that move the elevators, ailerons, and rudder to make the plane pitch, roll, and yaw. The servos are controlled via Bluetooth by an Arduino microcomputer inside the unit’s control box. The complete system was built and designed in-house at Ideum using custom components, hardwood, electronics, and model-making materials and our 3D printing, CNC, and laser-cutting facilities.

Each of the ten planes, controllers, and dioramas fits into a specially designed box for easy transport and protection. Educators will use the models as they conduct outreach efforts with primary and secondary school classes throughout the United States.

This unique project allowed us to utilize and expand our skills in 3D modeling, custom fabrication, electronics integration, and industrial design to support an exciting educational goal. We look forward to hearing how students use them to take to the skies in the coming months!