Flying robots not allowed on campus due to liability concerns
THE SANTA CLARA
October 1, 2015
The airspace above Santa Clara’s campus will be a little clearer this year, due to a new policy aimed at remotely-operated flying devices.
In an email last Monday, Samuel Florio, the Director of Risk Management and Compliance, announced that all recreational and commercial flying of drones on campus is prohibited.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that can navigate autonomously through pre-programmed flight plans.
Certain academic exceptions have been made in the new policy, which was implemented due to safety concerns. Federal Aviation Administration rules and the school’s proximity to Mineta San Jose Airport were the driving forces behind the new policy.
Students and professors in the engineering school have been flying drones for the past decade, but over the last few years there has been an emergence of student operated hobby-class drones, according to Christopher Kitts, professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the School of Engineering’s Robotics Systems Laboratory.
This new interest in recreational drone use has stoked a plethora of safety and liability concerns across campus, incentivizing the university to take action.
According to Kitts, the FAA does not have a set of rules regarding drones, or small unmanned vehicles, to date.
Instead, drone flyers are required to identify their vehicles as piloted planes. Because the drones are not actually piloted, users must ask for special exemptions.
The university is currently going through the FAA’s 333 exemption process, which will allow students to freely fly drones solely for academic purposes.
The process includes the FAA reviewing the plane frame, the pilot’s skill level and the reason for flying. Kitts said he hopes students will be allowed to use the devices on campus again within the next six to nine months.
“I want to do it for our classes,” he said. “I want to do it for our design projects. I want to do it for our research projects.”
For the meantime, the university has a verbal agreement in place with the San Jose airport allowing students to fly the drones on tethers for academic purposes.
If the drone is on a tether, the FAA treats the object somewhat like a kite, according to Kitts.
This new policy has actually forced at least one group of engineering students working on their senior design project to pick up another project, due to the difficulty of flying their devices on a tether.
However, most worries on campus are directed towards those who fly drones as a hobby. Kitts said, “At some point, someone will get killed by a drone falling out of the sky.”
Contact MarkAnthony Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org.