Drones trying to take flight at OCCC
Photo illustration by Kristyn Motley

When people hear the word drone, they might think of a little helicopter camera flying around in the sky.

Thomas Ashby, OCCC’s dean of Information Technology, thinks drones are more than flying cameras.

A drone can be used for a moving van, a water tanker, an inspecting device, a delivery truck — or a video camera in the sky, he said.

“Knowing that we are going to change, we are building the skeleton right now,” Ashby said. His faculty and staff are working with other planners on campus to prepare the curriculum to teach drone technology skills.

His committee is doing research, gathering information and writing a class curriculum for fall 2016.

There is a big question facing the committee right now because the curriculum will depend on FAA regulation of drones.

“It depends on what the FAA regulations change,” Ashby said. According to current FAA regulation for commercial drone use, a person must have a pilot’s license to fly a drone in the U.S.

The cost would be prohibitive, the dean said.

“We would have to hire a real pilot which is not do-able,” Ashby said. “We just want to fly drones on the campus.”

He said there are many restrictions limiting where, when, how high and how far drones can fly.

OCCC is in an especially difficult situation, Ashby said, because the campus is within a five-mile radius of Will Rogers Airport. They have to have a specific paperwork from the FAA and the airport to use drones.

“We might have to fly somewhere else,” Ashby said.

He is hoping to fly drones of less than four pounds in the fall, if the FAA changes its rules to allow that. The college already owns two drones in that weight class.

“What FAA wants us to do, that we don’t know,” Ashby said. The college will have to follow government regulations no matter what.

There are several commercial drone operators in Oklahoma City. Chad Baker is one of them.

“Flying a drone for a video production is a game changer,” Baker said. He is now capable of getting aerial footage from his hand, instead of getting into a helicopter to film. It is so much better on time management and cost of production.

“We can buy a 4k drone camera for under $1,000. We are saving so much money having fun with a flying camera,” Baker said.

He has been working on local business commercials in the Oklahoma City area using drones.

Ashby said his goal is to give students in the program a start in using drones effectively.

Computer aided technology professor John Helton plans to be involved because he is designing a new option under Computer Aided Technology called Unmanned Vehicle Systems.

The certificate in that option will be called Unmanned Aerial Systems, and will focus mainly on the drone technology, Helton said.

However the Associate in Applied Science degree plan will be broader, Helton said, and will include other aspects of unmanned vehicle technology.

“The first class we are offering in the fall is more of the introduction to the technology,” Helton said.

Helton is department chair for the Computer-Aided Technology programs. The new course will be named Introduction to Unmanned Vehicles Systems.(UVS).

Helton said the drones will be flown according to FAA regulations.

“Depending on the rule changes, we will fly outside or inside,” Helton said. “Or we will go outside the five-mile radius and find some land where we can do it.”

The class will introduce students to drone technology for architecture use, 3D mapping and search-and-rescue.

“That’s our goal,” Helton said. This new technology will be taught in class beginning this fall.

Collaboration with the film department is being talked about, he said, possibly bringing art and technology together in a way.

“If students have any questions about this class, just contact me,” Helton said. He can be reached at jhelton@occc.edu.

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