Drones take over campus

By Margarette Nelson, The Dartmouth Staff | 11/7/14 4:00am

On a cold snowy New Hampshire morning back in February, John Pepper ’91 was awake while the rest of campus was still asleep. A drone enthusiast, Pepper maneuvered his DJI Phantom 2 Vision around Baker tower. The sun was rising from behind, hitting the hills into Vermont across the Connecticut River, and Pepper caught a shot of the weather vane at the apex of the bell tower, with Silsby Hall, Russell Sage and the rest of Tuck Drive in the background.

Manuvering everyday drones, once something that seemed to only exist in the realm of sci-fi fantasies, have become an increasingly popular hobby. On campus, a few students have gotten them in the past year and are using them both as an aviation and photography outlet.

Tara Roudi ’15 said she didn’t even know that recreational drones existed until she received one for her 21st birthday this past spring.

“A bunch of my friends got together and they were trying to figure out what to get me,” Roudi said. “One of their dads told them about the [DJI] Phantom.”

Next thing she knew, Roudi was the owner of brand new drone, affectionately named “Sven.”

“When I got it in April, I was the only one on campus with a drone,” Roudi said, mentioning that it was not a premeditated process whatsoever and has mostly used the drone recreationally.

Roudi brought Sven with her on her adventures during her time on Vox Croo and has used it to film Mt. Smart and Mt. Cube.

Perhaps the most widely known Dartmouth drone-mediated production is the video of this year’s Homecoming Bonfire, filmed by Pablo Marvel ’15.

Marvel started a business in mid-July, producing videos that showcased real estate and architecture.He mentioned that filming the bonfire and making a promotional video was an easy choice.

“One cool thing about drones is that you can watch a video of something you’ve seen a hundred times, but the perspective from the air can make it a whole new experience,” Marvel said.

Pepper emphasized his efforts to not detract from the main event with his drone usage.

When Pepper, the Boloco founder and former CEO flew his drone to capture shots of last weekend’s Dartmouth - Harvard football game, he took special care to tape up the lights and be as subtle as possible.

“I don’t want it to be distracting, especially to the football players on the field,” Pepper said.

Pepper also cautiously filmed parts of 2014 Commencement from the air, taking shots that appeared in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.

Drones are not indestructible nor cheap – DJI, a leading provider of recreational drones, lists prices ranging from $679 to more than $1,000. With additional accessories like a remote with a monitor or blade protectors, the all-in cost can easily amount to several thousand dollars.

Roudi recalled an incident with Sven while filming Pigstick this past spring. She had maneuvered the drone to a considerable height, when it nicked a branch on the way down and fell from a height of several stories. Sven sustained damage from the fall and required a re-fashioned Gimballthat a friend of Roudi’s put together.

Pepper had been flying his first drone over the ocean when it was lost to nature’s forces, just like the volleyball of the 2000 film “Cast Away.”In a tribute to the beloved companion of Tom Hank’s character in the film, Pepper named his drone Wilson.

Pepper’s current drone is Wilson IV, due to the demise of II and III.

Because the phenomenon of drone flight as a hobby, there is little regulation surrounding usage.

Roudi said that she tried to look up laws on the Hanover website, but after failing to find any information she decided to take her chances and flew it anyway.

During Green Key and Block Party, Roudi said that Hanover Police and Safety and Security were “intrigued.”

“The S&S officer was convinced that I was trying to distract from illegal activities,” Roudi said. She eventually ended up letting an S&S officer take it for a spin —likely placating the officer.

“The U.S. is one of the few countries where commercial drone use isn’t yet legal,” Marvel said, noting that the FAA has been mandated to come up with guidelines within the next year.

Pepper noted that he had heard of incidents of drone users getting into hot water for flying over NFL games.

For now Marvel calls the regulations surrounding drone usage “a big gray area.”


Margarette Nelson, The Dartmouth Staff