On Tuesday, March 14, the public library hosted the most recent presentation for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s College of Letters and Sciences’ Community Lecture Series.
The lecture was titled “Preparing for the Drone Invasion” and the presenter was Tim Kennedy, professor of geography and geographic information systems.
Kennedy explained that a drone by any other name is an Unmanned Aerial/Aircraft System, or UAS. He said they are starting to pop into every aspect of society, and that their popularity is certainly not restricted to recreational use.
His slide show offered an extensive list of current and expected uses for drones which, in part, included videography, photography, real estate sales, aerial surveying, journalism, law enforcement, military and scientific research.
The audience was told about some issues associated with the steady emergence of this new technology. Kennedy’s biggest concern was safety.
He compared flying a drone to flying an airplane.
In an airplane, the pilot can see in front of them as well as to either side. When flying a drone, the operator can either see straight forward, or the drone itself from a distance. Neither option is as easy or as safe as being in the aircraft.
“We have been lucky we’ve had no loss of life yet,” Kennedy said while considering possibilities like drones crashing into plane engines and the use of lithium polymer batteries, which have the potential to explode.
Kennedy also explained a research project he has worked on with Brian Hall, senior psychology and computer information systems major.
The project compared three different viewpoint scenarios available for controlling a drone.
In the first, the controller watched the drone directly and from a distance, in the second, a camera was attached to the drone and the controller watched via a tablet screen, and the last option involved a camera and a virtual reality headset.
In all three scenarios, the operator of the drone had to take pictures of a ball from several different positions. The second scenario, with the use of the tablet screen, performed best.
“I was surprised. We had a relatively small number of people involved and yet the amount that we could learn from creating this sort of semi-structured environment… you can’t really put a price on that,” Hall said.
Toward the end of the presentation, Kennedy talked about a course offered at UWSP in which students can learn about operating a drone. The course’s main purpose is to teach students about safety procedures and how to collect useful data with drones.