University floats idea of drones as campus service
May 10, 2018
Students are spreading their wings and developing a business model to offer a drone-flying service to various groups at Santa Clara.
Senior Taylor Mau is one of those students, working on a business plan for an effective way for the Robotics Systems Laboratory (RSL) to complete drone flights for the university.
“We’re trying to set up a business model so that it will be a sustainable way to do tasks for the university,” Mau said. “Facilities wanted funding for some balconies in the new [School of Engineering] building. So we took a picture from where the balconies would be and what the view would look like from them.”
In their first project, the RSL flew a drone up to the height of the proposed deck and took a picture of the view that students and faculty would see overlooking the site.
“We have some stunning images—before the building is even built—of what the viewshed will look like,” said Associate Vice President for University Operations Chris Shay. “These images will have people projecting ahead and seeing what they will get to enjoy soon.”
In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reclassified drones as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems which subsequently prohibited their flight near airports without prior approval. This led the university’s risk management department to enact a complete ban on flying drones at Santa Clara.
In a campus-wide email sent in September of 2015, Director of Risk Management and Compliance Sam Florio informed the community of the new ruling.
“Under current law and Federal Aviation Administration rules, drones are prohibited from being flown over the Santa Clara University campus property, primarily due to Santa Clara University’s proximity to Mineta San Jose Airport,” he wrote in the email.
According to Florio, the prohibition applies to students, faculty, staff and third parties such as wedding photographers “for any reason and under any circumstances.”
In March 2018, the RSL gained approval to fly drones for various groups on campus, as long as proper approval was granted prior to each flight.
Christopher Kitts, director of the RSL, says that this permit had been granted after working with various groups within Santa Clara, including legal counsel, environmental health and safety, risk management and campus safety.
“We’d been working with the university for about two years to come up with a flight policy and approval process that meets FAA requirements, local laws, best practices, etc.,” Kitts said.
Until the end of the year, the RSL has a permit for a specific pilot to fly two specific drones to provide photography and video services to various groups at Santa Clara.
Future RSL projects include working with the Alumni Office to create drone-based videos of campus.
Contact Emma Pollans at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.