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Drone | Web Update

New campus drone gaining popularity

Published: April 23, 2014, 12:06 pm ET
Collegian Reporter

In recent months, students may have seen a mysterious, small, white object flying over campus. Not far behind, on the ground, is physics professor Con Beausang with a remote control in his hand. He is flying the new campus drone, which he has named URbee.

Beausang assembled a group of professors who he thought would be interested in using the drone and proposed the idea to Kathleen Skerrett, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. They purchased URbee in February.

“We got it for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because it’s fun and science is supposed to be fun,” Beausang said.

URbee was purchased with the physics department’s budget and is being coveted for use by departments across campus such as the geography, computer science, journalism and theater/dance departments, Beausang said.

“The number of people who have come out of the woodwork saying they want to be involved [with the drone] is unreal,” he said.

Since February, the Intermediate Lab physics class has used the drone for their final project. Their final project aimed to teach the students how URbee works. They tried to determine its stability, speed of the propellers, lift capacity and more.

Isaac Rohrer, a student in the class, said he thought using drones in a classroom setting was an excellent research and teaching tool.

“I am a big proponent of URbee the drone,” Rohrer said.

Beausang said the computer science department was interested in using URbee to map the wireless network on campus and see where the holes are, and the geography department may want to survey the river with the drone.

The theater and dance department is also planning to incorporate the drone into a performance next year.

Maja White, an assistant professor of theater, said she envisioned using the drone for a dance performance, either as a light source, or a way to shine light on other objects.

Anne Van Gelder, assistant director of dance, said the dance department was interested in finding ways for a dancer to operate the drone while he or she was dancing. Nathan Watwood, a dance student who is also physics major, is passionate about both fields and might be interested in choreographing a piece with URbee, she said.

Mike Spear, chairman of the journalism department, said the journalism department saw many uses for a drone and would very much like to have one. He said there were many different ways to use drones in reporting.

“There are several journalism departments across the country that have drones and we want to be able to keep up with them,” Spear said.

Tom Mullen, also a journalism professor, said a drone could be used for stories such as tracking the growth and development of an area, covering political rallies and protests, sporting events and city projects.

Despite professors’ interest in using drones in the classroom, they are aware that there are privacy issues with drones. Beausang said the policy he wrote for the drone had made it clear that it could not be used to spy on or harass people.

Mullen said he thought drones were an area of exploration that was growing rapidly.

“When it comes to drone journalism, privacy concerns are legitimate,” Mullen said.

Before the journalism department uses a drone, Mullen said they needed to enact guidelines and think carefully about how they would apply the ethical principles of drones.

Contact Collegian Reporter Mary Rossiter at mary.rossiter@richmond.edu

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