Jamaican genius on show
Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC) Interim Executive Director and CEO Constanza Miner receives a cheque drop-off from a drone at Dean Porter Park during a GBIC cheque donation to sponsor the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) CTE/Paragon VTOL Drone Academy for Brownsville CTE students and teachers.

DWIGHT Thanos Smith, the Jamaican former child prodigy now based in the United States, is making huge steps with his breakthrough work in drone technology, the Texas Herald news outlet reported over the Jamaican Independence weekend.

Smith was recently featured in the Jamaica Observer offering to help protect the island's borders from gun, drugs and human traffickers and to provide low-cost clean energy that he hopes will benefit the poor, especially.

Smith — son of a famous father, retired Sergeant Major George "Bumpy" Smith of the Jamaica Defence Force — describes himself as a "serial entrepreneur", watching as other countries benefit from his technological wizardry and asking himself why not Jamaica.

One such place is the US city of Brownsville, Texas, on the border with Mexico. Dwight Smith's company Paragon VTOL Aerospace, where he is chief visionary officer and lead inventor, is a leader in vertical take-off and landing technology (VTOL) and is putting the city at the centre of development of the technology.

Dwight Thanos Smith

The project is being developed through partnerships with easily recognisable companies like Rolls Royce, S&C Electric, ARUP, Texas Southmost College, the City of Brownsville and Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC).

In addition, Smith recently established a partnership with Virginia Union, a historically black college and university (HBCU) led by Dr Hakim Lucas, to create the Paragon Universe Research and Technology Innovation Center which will create sustainable jobs within the Paragon Universe and beyond. Smith plans to extend the HBCU collaboration to The University of the West Indies.

The Texas Herald reported Sunday that Smith's Paragon VTOL had been training students to fly drones, in the hope of landing high-paying jobs. A sponsorship cheque for the training was delivered by drone, to demonstrate the utility of the vehicle for dropping off and picking up packages.

Following is the Texas Herald article made available to the Observer by Smith:

Appropriately, the cheque and the pen to sign it arrived via drone Friday in front of a pavilion in Dean Porter Park, where 16 Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) CTE students graduated from BISD's first delivery drone academy.

The cheque was for US$86,000, from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp, and written to BISD to pay for the delivery drone curriculum and instructors, along with eight mid-size and eight practice drones.

The students spent last week learning how to fly a drone, which could eventually land them in high-paying jobs as delivery drone pilots for Amazon, UPS or Paragon VTOL.

Paragon VTOL is a company that specialises in vertical take off and landing vehicles, of which the drones used in package delivery are the smallest, and which GBIC recruited to Brownsville last year.

The City of Brownsville and GBIC are partners in attracting Paragon to the city and in helping develop educational partnerships with BISD and Texas Southmost College, said Constanza Minor, GBIC interim executive director and CEO.

Paragon has big plans for Brownsville, including eventually putting 50 passenger air taxi VTOLs, or droves, into service at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport. A manufacturing and warehouse facility is in the planning stages.

The drone academy that was established at BISD's Cummings Career and Technical Education Certification Center represents the first phase in Paragon's commitment to the city, GBIC and BISD, officials said.

"This is the first drone delivery academy in the United States in partnership with the school system. It's never been done before where you teach the students about drone delivery services, especially when you consider the companies that are competing to deliver retail packages to your home — whether you're talking Amazon, UPS, even our company Paragon VTOL," Dwight Smith, Paragon founder, earlier told The Brownsville Herald.

Last November, Paragon and BISD signed a memorandum of understanding under which the two entities are to create "work-based learning and STEM career opportunities for 11th- and 12th-grade students to learn, through hands-on experiences, the skills needed to become certified drone pilots and be able to perform various specific airspace tasks needed to accomplish set goals", according to the MOU.

"We wanted to make sure that we created a sustainable workforce and so I'm thrilled to be able to partner with the BISD CTE department to be able to offer this academy and to allow the students to learn so much about drones — how to build them, how to repair them, how to fly them to deliver packages with them, how to navigate them sufficiently safely to be in compliance with the FAA and all the regs [regulations] that are currently in place and will be down the road, so this is truly a remarkable opportunity," Smith said.

Keenan Doyle and Johnathan Dayap of San Diego, California-based Action Drone USA taught the drone academy, in addition to training 10 BISD instructors who will teach the curriculum to BISD students.

"We have done training all over the world, with the military and at the college level all over country, but this is the first at the high school level," Doyle said at Friday's event. "The students were amazing, nervous at first, but by end of today I see a lot of confidence."

Asked about salary, Doyle said he's "been hearing US$60-US$70K to start".

And how long does it take to learn? "We do crash courses of two weeks with the military. With the students, I would say probably a year."

Smith said the students will be learning how to fly sophisticated drones.

"If you look online or in the news you may have seen Wal-Mart's drone or Amazon's drone for delivering packages — these are all single-compartment drones, by and large. Our company has developed a drone that can deliver four packages in 30 minutes, and so the students are going to scale from this drone to a drone that's a lot more complicated — our company's brand — and then from there they'll move into one that you can jump on like an avatar and fly," Smith said.

Sixteen students attended the academy, 10 boys and six girls, Smith said, adding that "the girls killed it".

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