PLATTSBURGH — As Clinton Community College instructors Rick Lawrence and Duane Bibeau flew their drones inside the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing recently, their eyes never left the white, whirring, lit-up machines as they navigated up, down, left and right.
Soon, the two will start instructing the college's new drone courses, which will focus on commercial use, certification test preparation and hands-on training.
With all of the current and prospective uses for drones across different industries, CCC decided to get out in front of this trend, President Ray DiPasquale said.
“We really want to be able to provide the kinds of training and the kinds of things that are going to be useful to the companies, the businesses, citizens from every industry that's going to be involved in this.
“This is just the beginning and it's pretty exciting.”
Lawrence and Bibeau — assistant professor of electrical technology and mechanical technology instructor at the college, respectively — became certified drone instructors over the summer after more than 30 hours of training over three days through SkyOp LLC, a company based in Canandaigua.
One day of training introduced them to what drones are and what they can do, another was completely hands-on and the third consisted specifically of test preparation for the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate exam.
Bibeau explained that those who would like to fly drones commercially — where you fly and get reimbursed monetarily or through a trade — must have that certification.
CCC's drone program curriculum will be based on SkyOp's, and will be the first offered in the northern New York area, Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. John Kowal said.
According to an information sheet, the courses will be titled "Introduction to Drones for Commercial Users," "Part 107 Test Preparation" and "Hands-On Drone Flight Training - Basic Quadcopter Flight Skills."
Each course is expected to comprise eight hours, and in the hands-on class each student will receive a drone to keep.
At the latest, the college hopes to offer the drone training as non-credit courses this spring.
DiPasquale explained that there is potential for making the courses credit-bearing in the future if there is sufficient interest, or for those who initially take the course to use it as credit later.
“We don't want to rule that out that if somebody wants to work towards a degree in the field, you'd have that opportunity.”
Possible drone uses include inventorying goods, conducting safer wind turbine inspections, filming, surveying fields and inspecting roofs for heat loss using thermal imaging, Bibeau said.
Law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel can also use them in search and rescue efforts as well as for tracking criminals.
Lawrence has read that the State Department of Environmental Conservation purchased them for forest rangers.
Bibeau said Amazon is probably 85 percent of the way through to get drone deliveries, but limitations include battery life, the distance drones can travel, how that is affected by what the drones carry and the FAA trying to regulate this uncharted territory.
Kowal added that the real estate company he is working with to sell a house used a drone to take photos.
And a local company plans to use drones to dust shelves in its factory, DiPasquale said.
In their courses, Lawrence and Bibeau will use SYMA X5C drones which, according to the SYMA website, are 31 centimeters across and eight centimeters tall.
They are radio-controlled, capable of 360-degree rolling and durable.
The instructors chose to use these drones — which are not GPS-enabled — specifically so as not to spoil the students and to encourage their manual flying skills, since a lot of drone crashes occur when people use GPS-enabled drones and lose control, Lawrence said.
Bibeau pointed out that a decent entry-line drone costs a couple thousand dollars.
“So if you were to take the course and take the training, you’ll have a better foundation and less chance of you crashing your personal drone while you’re learning on an inexpensive drone.”
Lawrence — an electrical engineer and retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel — said he and Bibeau may co-teach the first course, then continue on independently depending on the number of students coming through.
“Realistically, you really don’t want to have more than 10 to a class,” Bibeau said.
“For the fine control you want them to use a small space” to reduce the possibility of being hit, Lawrence said.
He added that it seems many people do not know the FAA rules that govern drone use, such as flying underneath 400 feet, not flying over people and keeping a line of sight.
“For people to be safe, they need some training.”
The decision to offer a drone program came out of the college taking a look at its academic programs to make sure it is providing the training people in this area need.
The college centers what it does around what it hears from local businesses and industry, including the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Advisory Board.
“We're really in change mode where we're looking at how do we get more students, because our enrollments have seen a steady decline and we need to continue to look at things that are going to bring more students in here,” DiPasquale said.
“Everybody is gearing towards how do we give all of our students greater exposure to the new world that's happening, to the newer technologies.”
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