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CSU Monterey Bay's DroneCamp Offers Operational Training

California State University's annual five-day workshop trained more than 70 students, professors and industry professionals in safety, data management and real-life applications of the technology.

CSU drones
From students to researchers, upwards of 70 people attended a specialized drone flight training on Tuesday, June 28, 2022 at CSU Monterey Bay as part this year's installation of DroneCamp, an annual five-day workshop held in collaboration with college campuses and industry leaders across California.
Tess Kenny/Monterey Herald/TNS
(TNS) — To longtime CSU Monterey Bay staff member Pat Iampietro, flying a drone is so easy, anyone could do it. Or at least, with some guidance — a lesson he and other unmanned aerial system experts brought to the university campus this week.

On Tuesday, upward of 70 students, industry stakeholders, professors and just those looking to learn flocked to CSUMB for a specialized, hands-on crash course in operating drone technology. An all-day affair, the training session invited and offered instruction to anyone from drone newbies to experienced pilots hoping to expand their repertoire. It was just one of several drone events planned for the campus this week as part of a five-day annual workshop dubbed DroneCamp. Beyond actual operation, the weeklong training offers insight into a host of areas critical to breaking into the field, including safety, data management and real-life applications.

But for Iampietro, it was Tuesday’s live flight training that gave DroneCamp a unique edge over typical opportunities for drone education.

“The other part of my job mostly involves being indoors,” said Iampietro, a marine geospatial technology officer with CSUMB. “This gets me outside. … It’s just a great setting.”

Launched in 2016, DroneCamp is a brainchild of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources program at UC Davis. Over the past six years, the workshop has become a multi-campus and industry collaborative event, as well as an example of cooperation between college systems across the state. Though initially UC-centered, DroneCamp widened its reach in 2018 when a UC-CSU skills training partnership — facilitated by CSUMB’s Drone, Automation and Robotics Technology (DART) Initiative — laid the foundation for teamwork.

CSUMB held its first DroneCamp in 2019 and planned to bring the event back in 2020. Two years of virtual workshops followed, with the pandemic placing a pause on face-to-face learning, but this week marked the event’s long-awaited in-person return.

For organizers and attendees alike, the Monterey Peninsula offered an ideal spot to reunite.

“There’s a lot of AgTech interest in this area, and there’s also CSUMB’s Drone, Automation and Robotics Technology program that partnered with us the last time we came here,” explained Sean Hogan, a member of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ statewide Information and GIS program. Hogan established the roots for DroneCamp six years ago.

“Because it was so successful here, and we have all these collaborators in the same area, (CSUMB) is just a natural place to hold something like this,” Hogan continued.

Hogan was one of nine instructors giving pointers at Tuesday’s flight training. Others included Iampietro, researchers from partner colleges and even students.

UC Merced undergraduate Jewel Graham spent the morning leading participants in intermediate drone maneuvers. Meanwhile, the three-hour training session also offered lessons in advanced skills and videography.

Sharon Cavanaugh began introduction to drone operation at the workshops’s autonomous flight station. A teacher at Learning for Life Charter School in Marina, Cavanaugh said she signed up for DroneCamp to hone her skills as a photography drone and business teacher. Last year, Learning for Life launched its first drone program, Cavanaugh explained. With the upcoming school year fast approaching in August, Cavanaugh hoped some extracurricular coaching at CSUMB would help her better prepare her students.

“I just want to make sure I’m on the right track in advising them and sending them off in the right direction with great habits,” she said.

Elsewhere, software engineer and drone pilot Art Siordia stood by as fellow attendees tried their hand at a drone challenge course. Attending DroneCamp for the first time, Siordia described the experience so far as a “great opportunity for people just getting into the industry,” as well as a good chance to network and share flight stories.

“There’s not many places you can come out and get this kind of experience in,” Siordia said, noting his anticipation for the data processing aspect of DroneCamp’s instruction.

Coming into Tuesday’s flight session with a little less operational experience, Cory Steinmetz, an assistant hydrologist with the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, joined the workshop to develop skills needed to streamline data collection he conducts on a regular basis.

“We have tons of data we collect at the water district, some of which could be collected easier with drones,” Steinmetz explained.

A graduate of CSUMB, Steinmetz said his previous experience with drones primarily dealt with data processing during his college years. Returning to his alma mater for a follow-up, Steinmetz was glad to be back in a familiar classroom setting to round out his skill set — and challenge himself.

“So many instructors have said the hardest part about starting a drone data collection program is you make a lot of mistakes at first, which can be very costly both in time and money,” he said. “But to be able to come into a camp like this helps you get those mistakes out of the way. … You get to hear from these people who have gone through the same thing and made those mistakes, so we don’t have to slip up when we start a program of our own.”

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