Like many things that start small and then go viral, the growth of DroneCamp has been welcome but challenging to sustain. The situation just got a whole lot better thanks to a grant from the UC Vice President for Research and Innovation.
DroneCamp was developed and launched in 2017 by the Informatics and GIS program in UC ANR. From the very beginning, the multi-day bootcamp style short course was designed to be highly collaborative and dynamic, with instructors coming from UC ANR, the UC Unmanned Aircraft System Safety center, and drone photogrammetry companies including Pix4D and ESRI. This was not only strategic for building long-term working relationships among campuses and the private sector, but also necessary. The expertise needed to use drones for mapping and data collection is scattered across departments and campuses, and no one unit has the resources to cover all the bases.
Over the next few years, the program grew by leaps and bounds as we went "on the road" to UC San Diego in 2018 and CSU Monterey Bay in 2019. Each year the class size, curriculum, and program complexity grew. In San Diego, the program was hosted by the UCSD Environmental Health and Safety office, with additional sessions by the UCSD Drone Lab; one of the most advanced drone labs in the UC system. DroneCamp 2019 represented a step increase in collaboration, thanks in large part to the efforts of UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston who connected us with Monterey Bay DART (Drones, Automation and Robotics Technology), a technology-focused economic development program based out of the nascent UC Monterey Bay Education Science & Technology Center (UCMBEST). The Institute for Innovation & Economic Development at CSU Monterey Bay, under Dean Andrew Lawson, hosted the event, opening their doors to a new academic building and an extremely modern computer lab. Flight training was held at the nearby UC NRS Fort Ord Natural Reserve, managed by UC Santa Cruz. The whole program was planned to coincide with an industry symposium implemented by DART, so that the day after the instructional sessions concluded we shifted gears to an invigorating all-day symposium on technology, policy, and regional economic development.
The scope of DroneCamp took another great leap forward in 2020, when the virtual format blew the lid off the scale and breadth of instructors, workshop topics, and participants. The talented pool of instructors in 2020 (most of whom are returning for DroneCamp 2021), hailed from across California and as far away as Ohio, including:
- UC ANR
- CSU Monterey Bay
- UC Merced
- UC Santa Cruz
- UC Davis
- UC Berkeley
- UC NRS
- Palomar College
- Open Drone Map consortium
The virtual format not only allowed the Planning Committee to expand the core instructional content covering the deep workflow of drone mapping, but we were also able to add panels in specific research applications including coastal environments and agriculture, as well as industry perspectives and technology updates. To manage the load of what was now a medium sized instructional conference, IGIS developed a custom content management system which included an automated registration dashboard to handle the many concurrent Zoom sessions. The beneficiaries of this growth included the over 330 people from 5 countries, but also the expanding network of instructors, researchers, and industry partners.
Growing however comes with costs, and although the success has been rewarding, the complexity of the program has become increasingly unwieldy for the ad hoc Planning Committee to strategically plan and coordinate. Which is why we're thrilled to share that a recent research innovation grant to UC Santa Cruz from UC Vice President for Research and Innovation Theresa Maldonado will support UCSC's growing drone program, including coordination support for DroneCamp. The new funding will allow Dr. Justin Cummings, a UAS operator and data analyst with the California Heartbeat Initiative, to spend more time coordinating the many moving parts of DroneCamp, and support the Planning Committee in continuing to deliver what has evolved over the last 5 years into one of the premiere drone mapping training events in the country.
The support and stability will also allow the Planning Committee to make inroads on some long-standing programming goals. These include developing a stronger needs assessment and evaluation framework, connecting with workforce development initiatives and continuing education programs, expanding fundraising and sponsorships, reviving the scholarship program for under-represented groups, organizing panels that bring together scientists, industry leaders, and funders, and packaging instructional materials into extension products that can be used in other settings as well as asynchronous learning.
The future of DroneCamp is bright, and 2021 should be another information packed week of drone technology and data analysis. So get your propellers on, clear some space on your hard drive, and plan to come to DroneCamp July 26-30, 2021.
DroneCamp Planning Committee:
- Sean Hogan, UC ANR IGIS Program
- Justin Cummings, UC NRS, UCSC
- Brad Barbeau, CSU Monterey Bay
- Chris Bley, InsightUp Solutions
- Becca Fenwick, UC NRS, UCSC
- Corey Garza, CSU Monterey Bay
- Pat Iampietro, CSU Monterey Bay
- Maggi Kelly, UC ANR IGIS Program
- Andy Lyons, UC ANR IGIS Program
- Michael Matkin, UC Santa Cruz
- Josh Metz, DART
- Mallika Nocco, UC ANR
- Brandon Stark, UC Merced