Elon Drone Day welcomes aviation enthusiasts to campus

The second annual event, hosted on Nov. 18, attracted nearly 140 attendees interested in the technological and professional potential of the expanding drone industry.

Roger Bess of the Raleigh Rotor Racers highlights one of his racing drones to a group of high school students during the Nov. 18 Elon Drone Day.

Nearly 140 recreational and commercial pilots, transportation and safety officials, educators, students and community members interested in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) visited Elon’s campus on Nov. 18 for the second annual Elon Drone Day.

As part of the daylong program that consisted of keynote talks, a vendor expo and an afternoon flight demonstration, pilots, educators and officials discussed regulations, safety, job opportunities and trends in the drone industry. This year’s program focused heavily on education, inviting representatives from the fields of cinema and media, engineering, computer science, and international and global studies to participate, lecture and learn from one another.

Ayden Marrullier (right), a junior sales manager for AgEagle, speaks with attendees during the vendor expo at Elon Drone Day.

“The goal of this year’s program was to broaden the focus to include more areas across campus and within the community,” said Senior Lecturer Randy Piland, who organizes the annual event. “Therefore, we provided a connection to computer science, engineering, communication and global community outreach as they relate to UAVs. Beyond the speakers, we brought even more excitement by having drone racing league representatives and a demonstration.”

To see photos from the 2022 Elon Drone Day, click here.

The program consisted of four educational sessions in Turner Theatre addressing topics such as “Applying AI to Drone Delivery and Inspection with Quality Data” and “How Drones Fit in the Cinema and News Business.” Additionally, presenters discussed the future of the industry, as well as the role of engineering and robotics in the defense field.

Austin Brown, a FAA-certified drone pilot and co-founder of Global Air Media, LLC, was a featured speaker at Elon Drone Day.

Featured presenters included Austin Brown, an FAA-certified drone pilot and co-founder of Global Air Media, LLC; Jack Emerick, an account executive at CloudFactory; Mike Gearin, a creative director at PhotoFlight Aerial Media; and Tim Williams, a mechanical and systems engineer at Tomahawk Robotics.

More than 20 companies and agencies were on hand as part of a robust vendor expo. The day’s programming concluded with flight demonstrations on the university’s South Campus. The highlight was undoubtedly the high-speed demo provided by the Raleigh Rotor Racers and Fayetteville Multirotor Racing, two North Carolina-based drone racing organizations.

For Piland, Elon Drone Day addresses an obvious need in the region. “As a drone pilot, I found limited activities focused on UAVs in this part of the state,” he said. “With that being the case, I decided to offer a day where others can meet, share experiences and learn from others.”

AJ Peck, a technician for Zipline, speaks with students in the STEM Early College at N.C. A&T.

Of the nearly 140 participants, 66 attendees indicated on the program’s survey that they had their Part 107 certification and 49 others had recreational experience. However, 60 attendees said they had little or no previous experience with drones.

Piland said he was thrilled to welcome 41 high school students from two regional STEM programs as part of the audience. Among those in attendance were 19 students from a drone and aviation program led by Nicole Penn at Western Guilford High School.

Penn attended the inaugural Elon Drone Day last year and enjoyed the educational opportunity so much she felt compelled to return.

“We have already developed a drone technology program where our students learn about the technology, but it is important for our students to make connections,” she said. “They are able to get to see how drones are used in the real world and hear from people already employed in the industry.”

Nicole Baize (second from left), who teaches in the STEM Early College at N.C. A&T, talks with her students during a drone demonstration.

Personally, Penn said the visit reaffirmed important lessons on how to work with the FAA as well as how to handle risk management and liability issues. Additionally, Penn said she appreciates the relationship she has built with Piland, who invited her program to campus last summer to conduct training sessions.

“It is great that Randy makes himself available and this space available to the teachers in the state,” Penn said. “I really appreciate having Drone Day because we learn something new every year.”

Piland added, “Education is key to developing future operators in this aviation field, so it’s a natural fit for educators and their students to have front-row access to the same information equal to seasoned pilots.”

According to Piland, Elon Drone Day is the result of several collaborations, including a close partnership with the North Carolina chapter of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle System International (AUVSI). Additionally, the School of Communications paired with the Department of Engineering and the Department of Computer Science – along with numerous community partners – to bring the event to fruition.

The 2022 Elon Drone Day was financially supported by a grant from the Elon Innovation Council. The council annually offers grants of up to $5,000 to Elon students, faculty and staff for innovative project proposals that support the objectives and themes within Boldly Elon, the university’s 10-year strategic plan.