ST. CLOUD -- Nearly half a dozen buzzing, unmanned flying machines circled southeast St. Cloud’s Selke Field on Tuesday afternoon as Dr. Ben Richason, Professor of Geography at St. Cloud State University, looked on.

It’s one of those technologies that happened so suddenly. Some of the ramifications of the technology – it’s not what we expected.

The technology in question involves drones, unpiloted aerial devices that, in recent years, have found their niche in numerous fields of study and professions.

The Selke Field flight exercise was part of DroneTECH, an annual three-day workshop on drone technology and best practices, cosponsored by SCSU.

The program, organized and taught by experienced drone operators like Richason, seeks to demystify drone technology for educators, kindergarten through post-secondary.

Drones have at times been controversial, with critics voicing concern that the unmanned devices could interfere with navigational and communication systems of traditional aircraft or conduct video surveillance on individuals without their knowledge or permission.

Richason says, thanks to tight regulations on commercially-operated machines, drones and their operators continue to cultivate a positive public perception.

During DroneTECH’s participant flight session, Richason explained that unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, are subject to different rules and regulations depending on how you intend to use them.

Any hobbyist can certainly go out and buy a drone. However, most commercial or educational purposes require a pilot’s license.

The wide range of professional purposes requiring licensing includes law enforcement, search and rescue missions, community planning, real estate, GIS mapping and even archaeological work.

The strict rules governing drone use are familiar to a handful of DroneTECH’s attendees, who already possess the proper licensure with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly drones as part of their work.

Other participants like Jenny Richason, an eighth grade geography teacher at Sartell Middle School and Dr. Richason’s daughter, are beginners.

As a social studies teacher, there’s so much that students are already familiar with. Whether you’re talking about public safety, agriculture or archaeology, these are all topics we discuss throughout the school year.

Richason says she appreciates how drone technology will personalize lessons for her students.

I can see the imaging itself being really useful for our students. It will be really meaningful for them because they will be places they’ve walked, places they’ve seen and places they know.

Dr. Richason hopes DroneTECH and other educational activities around drones result in new and exciting uses.

Last year, we asked the Stearns County Board if some of our students could fly out in Quarry Park. At the time, they said no. They didn’t think it was a good use of public space. A lot of what we’re doing today – it’s really to show the positive aspects. And we could take what we’re doing here and put it on a national level, just think what we could do.

DroneTECH is a partnership between St. Cloud State University’s Department of Geography and Planning and Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, MN. Registration for educators is free of charge.

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