Drones a common sight on college campuses

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As a new semester gets underway for college students, drones are becoming a part of college course work.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) journalism students can take a course in how to fly a drone and learn how to use it to enhance their stories. VCU’s Rice Rivers Center offers a course in “Environmental Applications Of Drone Technology.”

William Shuart, a faculty member with VCU Life Sciences teaches the course. He told 8News students learned to use drones survey vegetation and remote areas like reservoirs.

They also learn to use those drones for data collection like this from the Rice Rivers Center’s environmental campus.

The data was collected by a LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) drone that sends 100,000 pulses of light out every second to accurately measure height of surfaces.

Students also learn to use images collected by a drones to create 3D images.

Virginia Tech is one of just a few facilities in the U.S. to have a drone park. 8News got a chance recently to check it out.

First year engineering students at Tech have had a chance to put drones they built to the test. The drones they built look like airplanes and sometimes they were flying high. Other times it was a downward spiral.

Regardless, the university’s unique drone park is taking off. Sarah Macey, the Drone Park Operations and Training Manager told 8News, “It’s an area for students and faculty and researchers to come and test out equipment or learn to fly drones on campus without having to worry about FAA regulations.”

Eighty-five-foot-tall steel poles and nylon netting enclose the airspace at the park. The Tech drone park is open to everyone. Students, staff even community groups can sign out and try out a drone they can get here at the park or at the campus library. Still, it’s not all play, world class research is happening under those nylon nets, from testing out drone delivery service to robotics.

“One the labs at Virginia Tech that uses are park the most is working on having drones communicate with each other,” Macey said.

Macey told 8News that could be a big help with search and rescue operations. In its first year, more than 2,000 people have used the Virginia Tech Drone Park.

To learn more about the VCU Rice Rivers Center and its courses click here.

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