Droning on, part 2

In a <a href=”https://argothald.wordpress.com/103135/”>previous post</a> about drones, I described my baby steps into the hobby. I started flying my “real” quadcopter, the <a href=”http://www.dromida.com/drones/dide04xx-vista-fpv/index.php”>Dromida Vista</a>, about a month ago. I did this where I work, <a href=”http://www.nevis.columbia.edu/”>Nevis Labs</a>, during my lunch hour. This made sense to me, since my goal was to take video of the Nevis mansion house and other areas of the estate for historical records. <lj-cut>The Dromida Vista is easier to fly than my previous quadcopter, but it still takes skill. I gradually learned to keep all movements small, and I didn’t try anything ambitious. My flight plan was almost always: go up, stay stable, compensate for air movements, perhaps move back-and-forth or side-to-side a few feet, land softly. My success rate at doing this steadily increased with practice. With the battery that comes with the drone, I can fly for perhaps 5-7 minutes before it runs out of power. Then it takes about 45 minutes to recharge the battery. So my flights were instructive, but short. I took some test video during a couple of flights, mainly to make sure the camera-smartphone connection worked. To my surprise, I discovered that the quadcopter camera had a microphone. I wasn’t sure why, since the only sound it could pick up while it was in the air was the whirring of the motors and propellers. Things were going smoothly. Then Columbia University sent out an announcement about its new drone policy. You can read it <a href=”http://www.essential-policies.columbia.edu/use-unmanned-aircraft-systems-university-campus-and-property”>here</a>. Essentially it grounded me indefinitely. I understand the reason for the policy: They don’t want to deal with liability issues if some idiot crashes a drone in the middle of a crowd, say at a sporting event. The problem with the policy, from my perspective, is they don’t define what an “Unmanned Aircraft System” is. Clearly they’re worried about heavy drones with sophisticated cameras, which might pose a physical or privacy risk. Does their definition include my tiny, five-ounce, ten-inch flyer, that’s too small to require registration by the FAA? I’ve made a discreet inquiry to check with the Facilities person in charge of Nevis. It will probably be a while before I get a response. I feel certain that most administrators, not wanting to deal with such a minor issue, would simply say “a drone is a drone” and that would end my flying permanently. Sure, maybe could I could find a flying club somewhere, but the purpose of this exercise was to film Nevis. If I can’t do that, there’s not much point in flying anywhere else. So… we’ll see. Maybe the Facilities guy will take one look at my toy and say “Don’t worry about that tiny thing. Just fly it.” I’ll keep my fingers crossed. </lj-cut>

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