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Drones @ The Library

by Anthony T. White on January 6, 2016

We hear that libraries have been getting a lot of questions about Drones, post-holiday gift-giving, and it piqued our curiosity. To find out more about Drones in Libraries, we talked to someone who knows a lot about the topic, Anthony White, Coordinator/Supervisor of Programming, at Arapahoe (Colorado) Libraries. They’ve had their drone programming in place for a while now and he’s got some great information for you. Read on:

  1. Tell us about your library’s drone program.

One of our library district’s strategic goals involves investing in new technology so that we can let our patrons learn and ask questions about things they are interested to try out, but not necessarily purchase for themselves. We work with everything from virtual reality, such as the Oculus Rift, to robotics, such as the Beam Robot. Drones are currently one of the biggest buzzes in the technology community, so for us, it was a perfect fit for what we call “Show and Tech.” These are travelling technology shows that happen both inside our libraries and out in the community. We’ve gone everywhere from small business luncheons to museums, letting people go hands on with our technology and, perhaps more importantly, engaging in discussions about what the real-world applications are.

There is a lot going on with drones right now: people have questions about what it means for privacy, how it’s going to affect the airspace, what Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations are being put in place, examples of them being used, etc. You can certainly have these conversations with patrons at any time, but when they are able to feel the weight of the drone in their hands, look into the on-board camera, and see a quick flight demo in person, their imaginations are sparked and they begin to create their own story of what the future of technology will look like. And yes, if the patron is feeling daring enough, we’ll let them do a quick test flight for themselves—in a safe and secure area, of course.

  1. What is the first thing a library anticipating a drone program should do?

The first step would be to really focus on what you are trying to accomplish with your program. The market is flooded right now, so it’s very important to research all of the available options to ensure you are investing in the right product for your needs. For instance, we use Parrot’s AR.Drone 2.0, which is one of the most widely available drones on the consumer market. It has a short battery life, so it’s a difficult m odel to use for, say, recording aerial shots for a student film. But it’s perfect for quick demonstrations where we can fly it for a couple of minutes, land, and then engage in conversation. It also is very user-friendly: it uses a touch-screen app to fly, so patrons who have never flown a drone in their life could still pick it up and safely take off and land. We’re also looking at ways that we can implement the drone seamlessly into some of our other programs. For instance, we have a Star Wars themed program coming up soon, so we’re planning on using the drone as our own stand-in TIE Fighter.

  1. Are there regulations to be aware of?

Yes, and they are very recent. As of December 21, 2015, any Unmanned Aircraft System (such as a drone) is required to be registered through the FAA if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds, which the majority of consumer drones do. The registration number and certificate granted through this process must be kept with the drone pilot at all times. In addition, there are a number of newly formalized policies in place: drones have to fly below 400 feet, must be kept within a line of sight at all times, must be kept away from emergency responders, cannot fly over sporting events or groups of people, and must be at least five miles outside of an airport, among others. We rarely fly our drone outside, instead opting for large, open indoor spaces with high ceilings. This keeps us in line with all of the regulations, and also helps prevent crashes or injury.

  1. What could go wrong? Is insurance needed/drones covered under library insurance?

Before we even considered flying drones in front of patrons, we made sure to assess the risk of injury. Our drone model uses plastic propellers that stop immediately on impact. Even at top speed, and I can attest to this because I did this myself with both my hand and head, a propeller striking a patron feels, at worse, like a pencil whacking a hand. But nobody likes being hit with a drone, so we ensure that it is being operated in a large, open space with high ceilings, free of obstacles. We instruct our patrons to stand behind a certain point during a demo, and a staff member will actually walk alongside the drone as it’s being flown to act as a barrier between it and other objects. Within the app, we also limit the max altitude the drone can go—three meters—and reduce the max speed to a near crawl. Again, the idea here is not to open up the entire world of drone flying to the patron, but rather introduce them to the overall concept.

  1. Where can librarians find great information to share with new drone owners?

Start with reviewing all of the regulations and information that the FAA provides. This will provide the required background knowledge and is often the basis for the majority of patron questions. Then, tap into the already built-up community for the various companies that produce drones. Parrot, for instance, has a community forum where other drone pilots discuss ideas and projects that they’re working on. If you or the patron are more interested in the filming applications, look on YouTube to see recordings of how they are being used and to spark ideas.

  1. Anything else?

The market is evolving very rapidly, so make sure to stay on top of the trends and changes happening every month. Drones are becoming smaller (and bigger), are following their pilot automatically, are taking more high-definition videos and pictures, and are implementing dozens of other features. But that’s the best part about engaging in these conversations with the patron; sometimes, they predict the future before the inventor does.


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