Community Service Projects using Drones


There seems to be a lot of concern that the opportunities for applying "good" drone technology will be limited by the fear of "bad" drones by the general public (at least in the U.S.) and with the Alitalia drone encounter the fear of restrictions on model aircraft  operations has also increased. My personal interest is in finding ways to facilitate the use of model aircraft in community service projects. I posted a question on the legality of this under the following post describing the problems encountered by the Otter Tail County government in Minnesota to continue their use of model aircraft to perform photographic surveys. I would note that if the county government had these same surveys performed by an aerial survey company from manned aircraft then this whole thing would probably not even be in the news. Aerial surveys from manned aircraft at higher altitudes are pretty routine but would be cost prohibitive for many users.

The question I posted over there was whether it would be legal for someone flying under the model aircraft exemption to voluntarily and without compensation collect the imagery and put it into the public domain and for the county government to then use this data to accomplish their survey goals. For the rest of this post, let's assume that this is legal (which I will leave to the experts to decide).

In order to do some good for the public and along the way give the public a better understanding on the "good" uses of drones, we should consider the opportunities for using model aircraft in community service projects.

Some potential application areas might include:

- Aerial surveys such as noted in the post above

- Agricultural / Forest surveys

- Search and Rescue operations

- Wildlife conservation activities (this activity seems to be taking off outside the U.S. with Conservation Drones, SPOTS, etc.)

- Many more that are not even on the radar at the moment

Some potential volunteers to do this work might include:

- Model UAV enthusiasts as individuals

- RC Model Clubs

- Local UAV enthusiast clubs (e.g., D.C. Drones, PDXDrones)

- Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts / 4H / Future Farmers of America / etc. looking for community service projects

- Many more than I can think of at the moment

I would think that national RC Model organizations (e.g., AMA in the U.S.) could form a specific initiative for these types of activities by their local clubs. I know that many UAV enthusiasts have not looked to the traditional RC Model Clubs as something they would be interested in since they have traditionally focused on the modeling and competition sides of the model aircraft world. When I took a look at my local AMA clubs on the web I did not see anything at all regarding UAV technology that would lead me into joining AMA. Looking to the future the RC Model Clubs might find a new source of members and new clubs with a focus on these new areas of model aircraft technology.

As an analogy to the AMA activities I would point to the agreement between the ARRL (HAM radio) and FEMA in the U.S. where local ARRL clubs are trained and perform practice drills in order to be capable of providing emergency communication support during disasters in the U.S. and elsewhere (recently in Haiti). HAM radio cannot be used for commercial purposes but they can provide volunteer support as a community service. I would think that a similar relationship could exist between Amateur Model Aircraft groups and government organizations.

So, assuming there are no legal barriers, what would need to be done to facilitate these types of activities. Most of the current model drone activity seems focused around the technical side with good info and conversation available at rcgroups, fpvforum, and of course here at DIYDrones. This is to be expected for new technology. There are some communities at Google+ focused on "good" drone applications (e.g., Drones for Good, Unmanned Aircraft and Agriculture). Probably others I have missed but I have not seen anything on community service projects.

I suggest that the DIYDrones community has the opportunity to take the lead here. What if we consider adding a capability at DIYDrones to facilitate community service activities. Maybe some sort of clearing house for info on what can be done, how to do it, and maybe a way to connect volunteers to projects. I just finished Chris Anderson's last book (Makers) and some of the info there sparked this suggestion for finding ways to connect people together for community service.

I realize that this quick note has focused on activities in the U.S. so please provide info related to activities elsewhere…

Hoping for some interesting feedback on this...

(As for the picture I needed to include at the start to make this an acceptable blog post, I picked the Techpod since I just ordered one and plan to use it in the future as a platform for experimenting with the types of technology needed for the applications outlined above. I am a retired aerospace engineer and will be looking for opportunities for model drone based community service projects myself.)

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  • This would be great to crowdsource... Like drone flash mobs for good. :)
  • Very interesting, I would be interested in using my multi-rotors in this way...
  • Funny you should mention the search and rescue use.... I recently received an email from a private investigator in Texas who is seeking private investigators in rural Virginia and West Virginia to assist a missing children volunteer organization during Amber alerts, etc.  I had expressed my interest in drones and explained the potential benefits of using one, particularly in situations involving lost hikers on the Appalachian trail, children who have wandered off into the woods, or heaven forbid were abducted, etc.   We are both excited by the idea.  The main obstacle being, I'm a private investigator, not an engineer... I have a 650nm quadcopter with a quadrino flight controller board and a JR9503 transmitter... and find myself over my head. 

    If one of the DIY Drone techies out there is interested in assisting me with my quad project, or someone like Mr. Anderson is willing to provide a better platform and assistance for such a worthy cause, I think the public relation benefits would prove enormous.


    James Pollock

    Bulldog Investigations


  • Gene Robinson operates this way with his SAR - Search and Rescue not for profit. Its a great way to operate around the "for pay" issues right now. I believe - but do not quote me, he operates solely on donations right now from the community. So he is a great example of providing a life saving service to the community. The more we highlight these types of use models, the more we can drive the discussion towards to goodness of civilian drone use. Great write up Greg!

  • These are great ideas. I've posted a link to your post on the "Drones for Good" Google group, hoping to get some good responses around this:

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