Promoting Responsible Behavior

It is not terribly profound that Smith College advocates responsible behavior and practice when using Drones.  Very early on, Paul Voss, Associate Professor in Engineering, anticipated many of the issues surrounding the integration of drones into the National Airspace System or NAS.  Paul organized an academic coalition last summer to challenge some of the FAA’s proposed rules, especially as they relate to academic use.  Paul also helped Smith develop our own framework for responsible and safe use of drones on campus.  Eventually, these organizational efforts led to the development of an Academic Safety Code for Small Airborne Objects.  Many of our nation’s top colleges and universities have signed onto the code and continue to teach students responsible use of drones.

Most recently, our efforts #PVDroneRules were highlighted by the folks behind the UAV Digest in podcast number 092.   @MaxFlight and @Dronemama made the trip from Hartford on a rather treacherous March night to cover the public event.  Their podcast and discussion are worthy of a listen as they highlight our arguments for safe, responsible, and accountable use of drones.  And, they recognize the importance and need for greater opportunities to introduce women into the world of drones.

Paul and I were also able to articulate some of our concerns with the proposed FAA rules (NPRM) and their broader implications on WGBY’s Connecting Point with host Jim Madigan.  Have a listen and let us know what you think.



Commercial Drones in Our Backyards

Please join us for our Commercial Drones in Our Backyards event on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 from 7:00 – 9:00 PM in John M. Greene Hall, Smith College Campus.

Download the Drone_Event_March_4 Flyer.


Will drones darken our skies?  Are we subject to staying indoors if a drone flight is in our neighborhood? Will academics have space and opportunity to teach and conduct research with drones?

Learn how the latest FAA Rules for Unmanned Aircraft Could Impact the Pioneer Valley.  The event will include presentation and discussion, a Drone display (aka the drone petting zoo) , and a live Flight Demonstration or two.

Listen to a preview from the Bill Newman Show on WHMP (drone discussion begins at 20:40 and plays till 32:10)

Presenters are:

  • Paul Voss, Associate Professor of Engineering, Smith College
  • Robert Newton, Professor of Geosciences, Smith College
  • Jon Caris, Director, Spatial Analysis Lab, Smith College

Read the FAA Notice for Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) yourself and please submit your comments here by April 24th, 2015!

Flight Training Workshop

With support from our Five College Digital Humanities grant, several Five College students, faculty and staff devoted a November Saturday at the MacLeish Field Station in Whately, MA  to learn some nuances of flying remotely piloted model aircraft (or drones).  The workshop fulfilled our need to learn how to program and fly missions required for archaeological surveys and landscape analysis.  We also reviewed different types of sensor systems and image analysis.  Many techniques are transferable to other practices or situations in outdoor environments and we plan to host future workshops to support the Five College community.

Future workshops will adopt a similar framework, but we may invite specific scholars to provide more depth in certain research domains.  For example, a workshop for faculty and students in film studies is now imaginable for spring 2015. Participants will not only learn necessary flight techniques, but how to:

  • plan camera position,
  • orient flight platform,
  • adjust / program gimbal,
  • configure shutter frequency based on time or distance, and
  • use first person view to frame specific shots.
Flying gear at MacLeish

Flying gear at MacLeish

Clearly, drones offer unique opportunities for photographers and film makers.  We look forward to supporting the film community, and others, with the skills we acquired during the workshop.  Please let us know if you are interested in attending a workshop to begin using this emergent technology.



Deconstructing Civilian Drones Workshop

On Thursday, October 30th we hosted our 2nd lunch-time workshop, titled “Deconstructing Civilian Drones”.  Designed as an open forum type of event, we invited participants to ask any questions about UAV or drone technology.  Our conversation began with several civilian drones opened for inspection to allow participants to see first hand the technological bits and bobs that make up this emergent technology.  Jon provided an overview of the technology convergence that drives the popularity and availability of drones in academia (and beyond).  Jeffrey shared our vision of the AIRLab and asked participants to imagine how such a space might function at Smith College.


Discussion was free flowing and generally positive about drone use in academia.  Questions ranged from:

  • controlling drones,
  • autonomous flight,
  • range and flight duration,
  • accuracy of positioning,
  • regulations,
  • reliability, and
  • future directions.

We plan to offer a similar workshop in the spring.  Please let us know if you are interested in attending.



Note: no food was harmed or consumed during this workshop per Five College requirements.

Maker Faire NYC

Three undergraduate students and I attended the Maker Faire 2014 in Queens, NY on Saturday, September 20th.  It was a very long day, but the students enjoyed the experience and engaged with a variety of innovative makers.  We spoke with artisans rethinking and re-imagining how drones can be designed and used.  We listened to the “drone lawyer” discuss the details and oddities of the FAA’s regulation of US airspace.  We were also able to visit a variety of makers to learn techniques for building drones.  And, perhaps an idea to bring back to the Five Colleges in some fashion is the game of drones, which puts drone makers in an enclosed area to square off for battle.  I imagine a Five College version to be less gladiator like, but more innovative and equally fun.  Care to offer some ideas?

Game of Drones

Game of Drones

Drone Artist

Drone Artist


Phoenix Drone

Creative design from the South

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