From Weatherford College
That whirring and buzzing noise on campus isn’t a swarm of bees, it’s Weatherford College’s newest tech gadget, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone.
The drone was purchased for WC’s emergency service training programs via a federal Perkins Grant of $1,800. Funds from this grant are specifically meant to assist in the purchase of cutting edge technology for technical programs that is not available through regular budget dollars.
“Previous Perkins Grant funds have allowed our fire academy to purchase items that improved our student training to a level that would not have been possible with traditional budget funds,” said Steve Malley, Department Chair of Public Safety Professions. “Without Perkins Grant monies we would have trouble keeping up with industry standards due to ever increasing costs.”
Other items purchased with Perkins Grant funds at WC include a digital fire training simulator, a fire extinguisher training simulator, a life-like mannequin used in the paramedic program and a new self-contained breathing apparatus.
Malley said he was inspired to seek funding for a drone after a photography student brought their personal drone to a propane fire training in Mineral Wells.
“The student shot some amazing video which gave us a perspective that we had never even considered,” Malley said. “I immediately thought about all of the potential uses we had for the drone. The drone allows us to get photographs and video of things we have not been able to which feeds back into improving instruction. So much of what we do does not allow someone to stand in the middle of the action and take photos. The drone allows us to do that and bring the information back into the classroom.”
Before sending up an expensive piece of college equipment into the air, Malley said he studied quite a bit by reading blogs on flying drones and even purchased a small one for practice flights.
“It’s amazing to fly,” he said. “First it’s just plain fun, but there was a steep learning curve. I just turned off the ‘beginner’ protection mode a couple of days ago.”
The drone can fly up to 130 meters (more than 400 feet) in the air and up to 1,000 meters away (about two-thirds of a mile). And when the operator inevitably loses sight of the drone, there is a home button that, once pushed, returns the drone along the same flight path to land exactly where it took off.
“You don’t realize how far that is or what you can see from that height,” Malley said. “The picture and video capabilities are even better than we expected. We have been able to gain some great photos during the practice flights that have everyone talking.”
The most common response from people who have seen the drone is, “cool!”
“So far it has been greeted with a lot of questions and picture taking,” Malley said. “People have come up and asked me what we were doing, what our plans were for the drone and then want to see the pictures. Others simply watch for a few minutes and take some pictures or a video. “
Since having the drone on campus and experimenting with its capabilities, many other uses outside of the fire, police and EMT academies have come to light including promotional photos of the campus and assisting local law enforcement with photos of accident scenes, foot pursuits and lost persons.
“The uses are only beginning to be realized,” Malley said. “We won’t be loaning it out, but we could bring it out if an agency had an incident where they thought it would be beneficial.
“Its primary focus is and will continue to be improving the delivery of instruction to our students. It also just seems to have a million other uses, so I don’t think it will spend much time sitting around on the shelf.”