This weekend at Smithsonian magazine’s The Future is Here science festival, Christopher Vo will demonstrate how easy it is to make a drone do what it’s told. The educational director of the DC Area Drone User Group, Vo has “taught more people to build their own drones at build parties than anyone in the country,” says Timothy Reuter, president of the group and founder of a national network of user groups, as well as the CEO of AirDroids, the company that builds The Pocket Drone. You’ve probably noticed the proliferation of stories about people flying drones. Reuter is right in the middle of that explosion. He spoke with Air & Space editor Linda Shiner recently.
Air & Space: Why did you want to form a user group?
Reuter: I was trying to build my own drone from a kit, and finding it a little challenging to do on my own, just using online instructional videos. And so, I thought, you know, maybe if I form a community, I can find people to teach me how to do this.
Ah, the old Experimental Aircraft Association trick.
Exactly. And, you know, I thought I'd be lucky if I found 30 people who would be interested. Well, two years later, I found 1,100 people.
Just in the D.C. area. Now we have a network of these associations around the country, getting close to 5,000 people. So, you know, this isn’t a niche activity. This is something that a lot of people are excited and passionate about. My focus has sort of transformed from “How do I do this myself?” to “How do we take this technology and turn it into something that has a positive impact in our society?”
And how do you do that?
There are a few different ways. One is to encourage people to experiment with new applications. We’re having a drone search and rescue challenge this Saturday where we’re simulating a lost person scenario, and people are going out and trying to find these lost people and the items they left behind. One thing I want to be clear about is that we would only ever do this in support of professional first-responders. We are not interested in going out and wildcatting this, but we hope in the future that we can be a resource to professionals who may need additional assistance from the community.
And there are additional things being built around this. One of our members has created a site called The UAViators [pronounced u-aviators] Network, which is an international humanitarian association of UAV pilots. Basically, when we have another hurricane Yolanda or something like that, we have people who are ready to deploy and help with those kinds of situations.