Stephen Wolfram's 13-year-old son demos drone on-stage at Maker Faire

We set up onstage beforehand with Christopher and it was apparent even then that he was freaky smart. But then he does a demo programming a Parrot AR.Drone to fly geometric patterns with Mathematica, and then debugged the program in real time on stage in front of a packed house. Amazing. When I was 13, I was still having trouble remembering the months of the year. (Of course, he is the son of a genius. But still!)

Report from Makezine here:

Mathematica creator Stephen Wolfram gave a talk at World Maker Faire New York 2012, but his 13-year-old son Christopher stole the show by doing some Mathematica programming on the fly to control a quadricopter.

His plan was to have a single line of Mathematica code that would make the quadricopter fly a specified 3D path. He had a list of points for a square, entered the line of code, and pressed Shift-Return, and… nothing happened!
I guess Christopher has debugged quite a lot of code in his 13 years. And now he set about doing it in front of the audience. A missing function definition. A missing command to connect to the device. He was finding quite a few things. And I was getting ready to call out that he should just give up.
But then… the sound of quadricopter blades, and up the quadricopter goes… flying its loop on the stage, and landing.
It had actually worked! It was pretty neat, being able to just type one line of code into Mathematica, and then having some physical object fly around in the pattern one had specified:

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Comment by Jack Crossfire on October 9, 2012 at 3:21am

There was no position data.  It was commanded to roll at certain times.  In the 1980's, they taught this kind of programming in 7th grade.  Assembly language at age 13 wasn't considered remarkable.

Comment by Todd Hill on October 9, 2012 at 4:29am

I would like to know where you went to school Jack.  My secondary education obviously pales in comparison.  I give the kid credit though for not cracking under pressure and debugging on the fly as he did.  Kudos Christopher!

Comment by Harry on October 9, 2012 at 6:01am

Yeah really, 7th grade we were cattle on good days and the warden was quick with the prod. 

Comment by sergei lupashin on October 9, 2012 at 6:57am

This is actually pretty cool. Jack: the AR.Drone does have (relative) position estimate, so it's definitely possible that it would be possible to command it positions (or at least velocities) ..

What i'm interested in most though is the Mathematica integration. @Chris, anyone else, any idea/rumors on if/when this would be available from either Parrot or Wolfram?

Comment by Peter Meister on October 9, 2012 at 3:40pm

I think Jack maybe getting mis-read here. What he is saying, Jack correct me if I am wrong. In the 80s computer programming classes were started as early as 5th grade. I myself took Assembly in 5th grade and Fortran - Pascal - Lisp - CP/M etc...etc...were also offered in public school(NY State for those asking) in the very early 80s. Assembly at 13 is not remarkable at all actually, so I myself am not impressed with the basic programming he showed. However I am impressed with Mathematica, but I am also concerned. When we dumb down the programming languages as we have done now for many decades - i.e. Visual Basic, C, C++ we actually go backwards IMHO. I know I will catch heat for this, but it would seem Mathematica is doing similar, now on the flip side considering the lack of STEM student populations here in the U.S.A I think it is the only way to get kids interested in computer language again. So it fits the purpose. I am also impressed with Stephen and what he accomplished and did on stage, the way he presented, the way he carried himself under-pressure. He did outstanding, but the computer programming and stuff is rudimentary and I believe that is what Jack is referring too. 

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on October 9, 2012 at 4:11pm

Wow, surprised by what I'm reading.  Shocked actually.

In High School, computer science was simply BASIC.  And that was in grade 9.  In grade 7, I think we played with Logo for a few hours over the course of the year.

I'd be pretty happy if my kid pulled that off at 13 years old.

Comment by Sgt Ric on October 9, 2012 at 4:40pm
Us oldies got involved back then too.
In 1974 our College offered Computers 12/22, even though we didn't have any computers!
We worked with punch cards and verifiers and wrote Fortran code, which we mailed away to the University, which ran the programs and couriered the printouts the next day.
Comment by Todd Hill on October 9, 2012 at 4:41pm

  My initial comment was meant to be taken jokingly rather than sarcastically.   Jack is light years ahead of the curve on this forum.  In fact, each time he makes a new post I am always overwhelmed at how much I don't know.  It's obvious the roots of his knowledge were planted at an early age, just as this young man.  However, not everyone is afforded the opportunity to learn what some may consider rudimentary skills at such an early age.  I consider fortunate the ones who are though.

Comment by Ellison Chan on October 9, 2012 at 7:56pm

Its a great time for geeky kids.  All we had, when I was his age, was teletype terminals connected to HP main frames, and rubix cubes.  So many toys, so little time, and then puberty hits. 

Comment by John Arne Birkeland on October 10, 2012 at 1:10am

Jack's comment may have been in bad form, but what I perceive as the essential message behind it is true. Today computers are readily available for anyone, and the threshold to use one is MUCH lower then what it used to be. This naturally leads to a certain dumbing down of the users.

Earlier you had to have a fundamental understanding of how a computer works, just to use one. And to program one you really had to know the ins and outs. So as a "old schooler" it is easy to get a knee jerk reaction at what by some is considered "genius" levels today.


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