Between Obama's enthusiasm for drone strikes and the widespread fear that the NSA is forever looking for new ways to murder our freedom, drones have gotten a bad name. There's an easy way to fix that. "We call them UASes now," says local drone—ahem, unmanned aircraft system—enthusiast Ryan Twose.
A software developer by day ("I'm always looking for emerging tech trends"), Twose got into drones during a visit to see family in Canada last summer. By fall he'd applied for a charter to begin a Chicago chapter of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. And in January the group he organized through the Drone User Group Network had its first meetup at Emporium Arcade Bar in Wicker Park. He currently owns three rigs of his own, at least one of which he built from the ground up with kits—soldering the metal bits and everything.
Because of fairly stringent FAA regulations—any airspace above 400 feet is within its purview—and crappy winter weather, Chicago-area drone hobbyists do a lot of their flying inside; another recent meetup brought Twose and others to a golf dome in Bensonville. But their meetings are also an opportunity to strategize and discuss the future of the controversial technology. The commercial use of drones has been banned by the FAA since '07, but that could change as soon as 2015. Twose—and, unsurprisingly, the Drone User Group as a whole—thinks that promoting the responsible use of drones could be to the benefit of humanity.
The practical uses he mentions include search-and-rescue missions (minus the rescuing part), agricultural monitoring (i.e., giving farmers a bird's-eye view of their fields so they can make informed decisions about fertilization and irrigation to avoid waste), and conducting fire watches for forestry departments.
And, yeah, there's also the fact that operating a drone is fun. "It's not an esoteric hobby," says Twose. "It's very hands-on and maker-friendly. Everyone sort of tweaks their rigs with fixes they invented themselves." As for the negative associations, he says, "A lot of it's just sensational . . . that's just a boogeyman."
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