Indie saying no indie

ACC students fly into thriving job market

UAVs students Assiniboine Community College

photo courtesy Assiniboine Community College

It’s not a bird, and it’s not a plane, but it is able to leap tall buildings – under the careful control of an operator on the ground.

New technology is lifting off at Assiniboine Community College, with instructors excited about the opportunities that remote-operated aircraft can bring to their students.

Known popularly as drones, but more accurately as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, the flying machines are starting to shake up industries from real estate to tourism to agriculture.

ACC students are going to be among the first in the country trained on UAVs.


“It’s a tool that’s being used in a lot of different industries, but there’s not a lot of training,” says Steven Hills, a GIS instructor at ACC.

“If our students can get this kind of hands-on experience during their studies, it will give them a real nice tool in their tool belt.”

His department took delivery of two new UAVs over the summer and completed their own training before classes started.

Students will be learning to fly a brand-new DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter (meaning it has four helicopter-like rotors, one at each corner), but Hills is even more proud of the DJI S1000.

The S1000 is a beast.

Unlike the friendly white plastic of the toaster-sized Phantom, which is popular among hobbyists, the S1000 is jet black carbon fibre.

It’s got a wingspan of about five feet, with eight separate rotors providing enough lift for its battery packs and a full-size professional camera.

Different lenses and filters for that camera mean the S1000 will be very well-suited to research and gathering data for students to analyze on the ground.

Near-infrared filters can be used to measure how well crops are growing, and to pick out plants suffering from insect stress or drought — of obvious interest in agriculture.

Low-distortion lenses can point straight down at the ground and capture near-real time images that students can stitch together seamlessly using special computer programs.

Imagine an ultra-high-resolution Google Maps of your own farm, updated that very morning.

“It’s quick,” says Pam Wilson, also a GIS instructor at ACC.

“Farmers can get data almost instantly. And we can be out there every week.”

That’s in stark contrast to relying on satellite images, which might pass over only a few times a season, and can’t see through cloudy skies.

To users of GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, that kind of timely and accurate information is critical.

Flying over a field instead of walking through can also help keep soil diseases like clubroot contained, she points out.

Not only are there immediate practical benefits on the ground, but there’s one big benefit in the classroom, too.

“Students who graduate with flight time on a UAV will have a leg up on their peers,” says Steven.

“You can get hired to do heritage mapping of buildings, examine drilling rigs or smokestacks, anything that might require an assessment where you might not want to go up a ladder,” he says.

“A lot of organizations are using these for real estate, to show the ‘viewshed’ of an unbuilt condo tower, ‘Here’s what your view from the 21st floor will be’.’’

Steven says students will learn with the UAVs through the fall and again in the spring.

Cold weather will likely keep them grounded through the winter.

Not only do -40 temperatures reduce battery life and flying time, no one wants to trudge through hip-deep snow to pick up their UAV from a field.

But there will be plenty of data for classes the chew through during the winter.

Steven expects that most students in the college’s GIS programs will get a taste of flying the Phantom, as will most of those in the Land and Water Management program.

Meanwhile, students in the Interactive Media Arts program are awaiting delivery of a drone of their own.

“We have a Phantom 3 on order and we’ll be using it this year in our production classes,” says Graham Street, an Interactive Media Arts instructor at ACC.

That UAV, an upgraded version of the Phantom 2 used by GIS, features an ultra-high-definition 4K camera that Graham says will be perfect for students who are interested in a unique new angle on video.

“Drones let us capture high production value footage for a very low cost and we want to make sure that our students are familiar with this technology,” he says, adding that he expects UAVs to be even more widespread in the near future.

Part of the learning includes teaching students the rules and regulations for safe and legal operation of the UAVs — including pre-flight checks and maintenance.

The S1000 is “big enough that you could hurt someone,” Pam says.

And when fully charged, the battery packs are so filled to the brim with electricity that if they’re dropped on a hard surface they could catch fire.

While the UAVs can be entertaining to play with, they’re also serious tools.

In fact, with UAV technology still in its infancy, the future is wide-open for new uses.

“Every time I go on YouTube, people come up with new things,” Pam says.

This year, some of those cool new things might be thanks to ACC students.

Assiniboine Community College


Corey Calverly Hedley's Health Hut

Corey Calverly, co-owner, Hedley’s Health Hut

Laugh more. Love more. Live more. Here are eight ways to make better choices to improve your health in 2016.

Eat Chocolate

Stress is a culprit involved in fatigue, weight gain and wrinkle formation.

A tasty way to beat stress is to eat dark chocolate according to a Swiss study.

Magnesium and lavender oil are other natural remedies that help combat stress.

Ferment More Often

Fermented foods are packed with nutrients, as well as probiotics that keep your digestive system happy.

From yogurt to fermented drinks, try eating fermented foods more often.

Stay in the Game

Don’t get sidelined by the common cold.

Arm your immune system with the help of natural immune boosters such as vitamin C.

Make a Date with a Tree

Taking a walk in the woods improves mental health according to a 2015 study conducted at Stanford University. Get out there!

Just Breathe

Taking a few deep breaths beneficially lowers your blood pressure and heart rate.

Research studies also suggest deep breathing boosts your immune system and may be linked to longevity.

Maximize to Energize

The body can amplify energy production when it has the right nutrients: B vitamins, probiotics, digestive enzymes and multivitamins.

Regular detoxing/cleansing may also help.

Snack Wisely

Eating more fibre and protein can help crush those monstrous cravings for junk food that expand your waistline and spike your blood sugar.

Exercise is another important part of successful weight management.


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Today’s Throwback

City Hall 1900 Heritage Brandon

City Hall
Brandon’s original City Hall was completed in 1892.

The building, which stood where Princess Park is today, was demolished in 1971.

This photo was taken in the early 1900s.

Source: Howard Fuller / Library and Archives Canada / PA-026014)

photo courtesy of Heritage Brandon


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