Universities Craft New Drone Programs and Policies on Campus

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Chief Craig Capri holds a DJI Inspire UAV during a press conference to announce the implementation of a new aviation department, with help from Embry-Riddle at Daytona Police Department, August 10, 2017. (Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

As drones continue to permeate both commercial and public sectors – police, agriculture, mining, construction – university officials are taking note of the trend as they face the challenge of addressing UAV issues on campus.

According to a recent article in University Business, institutions are not only offering more and better drone academic programs, but also hashing best practices for internal UAS use. New campus deployments include safety/security flights, traffic control, campus mapping and weather analysis.

Drone experts are playing a key role in the process, offering vital advice to university officials in molding policy.

“You can’t list every imaginable scenario, so a policy also needs to be broad enough to give you wiggle room to operate,” drone attorney Clint Speegle stated in the article.

Speegle notes that drone use can save often cash-strapped universities thousands of dollars by replacing manned flight:

“Why use a helicopter that’s going to cost $500 to $1,000-plus an hour to operate when you can use a [DJI] Phantom drone, which costs just over $1,000 to buy, and with a battery can give you 30 minutes of airtime? You can buy three UAVs to look at certain areas of campus [regularly], and that’s equal to what you might spend on a helicopter for one weekend.”

For universities already offering drone academic programs, new awareness of UAV capabilities has resulted in stronger community ties. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September, Daytona Beach-based Embry-Riddle University assisted public-safety agencies by providing aerial footage of damage and data analysis. The collaboration stems from an earlier partnership between Embry-Riddle and the Daytona Beach Police Department.

Ultimately, experts agree that universities face both benefits and ongoing challenges as they embrace drone technology.

“Every campus struggles with the FAA guidelines, even those with strong UAV programs,” David Arterburn, director of the Rotorcraft System Engineering and Simulation Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, told UB.

“The uses of drones are limited only by the creativity of the people who want to use them,” Henry M. Cathey Jr., deputy director of New Mexico State University’s Physical Science Laboratory added.


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