Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne want to make a couple of things clear about their drone.
First, they fly drones as a hobby, not a business. Sherman and Zvaigzne don’t get paid for any of the activities they engage in. (It’s an important distinction).
Second, they are not spying on anyone on the ground. “Our drone can’t see through walls or windows, and it cannot hear what you are saying,” Zvaigzne says, noting that drones sound like “flying lawnmowers,” so they are not going to be sneaking up on people.
The two Tigard residents and drone hobbyists plan to make a zany presentation titled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drones,” at 11 a.m. Saturday at Portland’s Mini Maker Faire in OMSI’s north parking lot.
Sherman is an administrative analyst for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. Zvaigzne is a small-business owner.
Although they have a website, www.Roswellflighttestcrew.com, Sherman and Zvaigzne say because they aren’t paid for flying the drone, they do not need a license from the Federal Aviation Agency to fly the radio-controlled aircraft, but they must follow certain guidelines.
Portland’s Mini Maker Faire Saturday and Sunday is a “showcase of invention and creativity,” says Andrea Middleton, OMSI events director.
Middleton noted that the event is called a “mini faire,” because the original Maker Faire in the San Francisco area features 800 to 1,000 makers.
What has impressed her most about the more than 100 participants in the Portland event is “the sheer variety. We have robots, rockets and crafts — we even have a guy who has wrapped his car in yarn.”
The event is family friendly, and will be enjoyed by late elementary school and high school students and adults, she says.
Sherman says that after their presentation Saturday morning, the two men will set up their equipment and give people “drone rides,” by letting them put on goggles and follow the drone’s progress as it flies over the Willamette River.
They are expecting a group of like-minded people to be at the OMSI event, Zvaigzne says, adding that the faire will be made up of “extreme do-it-yourself people. If you can make it, people are doing it.”
Zvaigzne and Sherman first became serious about radio-controlled aircraft about two-and-a-half years ago. They built their “hexicopter,” a six-rotor helicopter, from scratch, using a bright yellow upturned Rubbermaid mixing bowl, six motors, propellers, a flight controller and other components, most of which were purchased online.
“A couple of years ago, local hobby shop owners looked at us funny when we asked about parts, but now they stock them,” Zvaigzne says.
The craft is powered by a lithium-polymer battery that is standard for radio-controlled cars and airplanes, Zvaigzne says, adding that their drones can fly five to 10 minutes before the battery needs to be recharged.
A key component of their drone is a camera, made by FLIR Systems, the Wilsonville company that began making infrared-imaging systems in 1978. Many fire departments across the nation use FLIR cameras to find people trapped in burning buildings.
“We are incredibly fortunate that FLIR is in Wilsonville. We make videos explaining how we do things, and they stumbled on our website and provided us with one of their cameras,” Sherman says.
The camera allows the drone to record both in visible light and thermal images, and it is the latter that is so crucial.
“The camera can see the heat coming off objects, which is useful when the drone is participating in search and rescue missions, because it can spot the humans right away,” Sherman says.
Research and rescue
“Drones have gotten a bad rap from stories about military drones dropping missiles on people,” Sherman says. “But our interest is in scientific research and helping first responders.”
In April, Sherman and Zvaigzne flew to West Virginia to work on a University of West Virginia river-restoration project.
The Cheat River is a native brook trout stream, and the trout thrive in colder water, “but you can’t tell just by looking at the river where the cooler springs, seeps and tributaries come in. We flew the thermal imager over the river and found those places with extreme precision,” Sherman says.
As for helping first responders, it is in the realm of public safety that the two men and their drone have made some great strides.
They flew the drone during a controlled burn of an apartment complex in Longview, Wash., and assisted Portland Fire & Rescue with a controlled woodland burn in North Portland.
On Aug. 7 and 8, Sherman and Zvaigzne worked with Eugene Fire and EMS, on a three-story burn house, a river-search scenario and a hazardous-spill scenario.
During the spill exercise, the fire chief directed them to fly over a nearby stationary train, and in an unplanned demonstration of the drone’s capability, it detected that one of the rail cars was emitting heat.
“We zeroed in on the car and switched to thermal imaging. We then were able to read the placard on the car and discovered that it was carrying molten phenol. We inspected the valves on top and there was no leaking. It was perfectly safe,” Zvaigzne says. (Phenol is
always shipped hot).
In this situation, no laws were broken and the railcar did not pose a hazard to anyone. But in real, potentially hazardous conditions, without the drone it would have taken “a dozen firefighters an hour to get the same information it took us two minutes to get. Hazardous material spills are a deadly threat to the public and first responders,” Sherman says.